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Chad Referendum Ends Presidential Term Limit Amid Fraud Allegations


The results of a referendum to change Chad's constitution have been announced with a large majority in favor of allowing sitting President Idriss Deby to run for a third term. Opposition leaders quickly denounced the results, charging massive fraud, and calling for public demonstrations.

Announcement of the referendum results Tuesday put the "yes" vote at more than 77-percent. Chadians went to the polls June 6 to decide on proposed changes to the country's constitution, the most important of which deals with the elimination of a two-term limit on the presidency, before elections next year.

The proposed changes would allow former rebel leader and current President Idriss Deby to run for a third term. Mr. Deby has denied opposition charges that the referendum was set up for his own benefit.

One woman in the capital N'Djamena says she did not even turn up to vote on the referendum. She says her vote would not have made any difference. The result, she says, had already been decided ahead of time. Chad's future, she says, is now going from bad to worse.

Before the vote, Chad's independent electoral commission had said more than 5.6 million voters were registered, despite estimates that place the over-18 population at around four-million.

Chadian opposition leaders, including former Prime Minister Jean Alingue Bowayeu, say the vote was fixed and accuse Mr. Deby attempting to set up a political dynasty in Chad. Mr. Bowayeu says the result is a shame. He says there is no way the 71-percent turnout reported by the electoral commission was possible.

Several opposition parties had called for their supporters to boycott the referendum, calling it a day of tyranny and national mourning. Turnout at polling stations had appeared low.

A spokesman from President Deby's political party denied vote rigging and said the independent electoral commission had done its job.

Mr. Bowayeu and other opposition leaders have called for mass demonstrations to protest the result. Mr. Bowayeu says he expects the Chadian people to come out in large numbers to voice their dissatisfaction with the authorities. He says he hopes democratic countries around the world will support their cause.

Despite projected revenues in 2005 of around $250 million from oil fields in the south of the country, Chad remains one of the worlds poorest countries. A recent influx of refugees from neighboring Sudan's Darfur region, is putting an increasing strain on Chad's meager resources, fueling growing dissatisfaction with Mr. Deby's administration.