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Niger Opposition Agonizes over President Tandja’s Plan to Change Constitution

Niger's opposition parties have vowed to continue to resist any attempt by embattled President Mamadou Tandja to change the constitution. President Tandja, whose second five-year term ends in December, seeks to conduct a referendum which would allow him to hold on to power for three more years.

Tandja's opponents accuse him of reneging on his promise after vowing to stand down after two terms in office. But now he says he is seeking constitutional reform to allow him to remain in power, since the population wants him to finish projects he has begun.

A group opposed to the plan threw stones at a pro-Tandja meeting near the capital Niamey, prompting security agents to fire teargas to dispel them.

Political tensions rose sharply when President Tandja dissolved parliament last week after a constitutional court ruled his plans to change the constitution were illegal.

Human rights activist Abdul Kamardine told VOA that Nigeriens love their democracy and will not allow the president to have his way.

"The president is trying to say the constitution is bad and he wants to change it. But what we are saying is President Tandja is actually an outgoing president, so an outgoing president is not supposed to start taking some initiatives like this," Kamardine said.

He said there are suspicions that the government is using all means to achieve its aim of perpetuity in power.

"They were able to, let's say, corrupt some people among us, civil rights activists, and they bribed them. And they are able to have them on their side. And that is why they started attacking the national assembly," he said.

Kamardine said there were indications that the administration portrayed the legislature as unfit. That, he said may have been the reason for the president's action that dissolved parliament.

"They tried to show all the population that our representatives are corrupted, and now for his (president) to stay in power, they will gather people, give them money, and they will say, you just come and declare in front of our camera that you are supporting what the president wants to do," Kamardine said.

He accused the military of violating the constitution by injecting itself in the ongoing political impasse between the president and the opposition.

"To my understanding, it is as if the army is backing the president and they are trying to install a kind of dictatorship, which we are trying to resist," he said.

Kamardine said democracy-loving Nigeriens would not stand by to be denied what they have fought for.

"Since 1990, we fought the dictator government, but now after some 19 years, people are trying to take us backwards, which is unacceptable in the 21st century," Kamardine said.

He said there are indications that although the president might succeed in his attempt to change the constitution, the opposition would make it difficult to challenge the government.

"They can still do it, but they have to kill people because I know people will not just fold their arms and be looking at them (government)," he said.

Kamardine said those opposed to the president's plan are gathering for a big push to kick against Tandja's referendum move.

"All the trade unions are getting together with the political parties, with the civil rights activists and they are creating a large gathering to fight this attempt," Kamardine said.

He said after dissolving parliament, the president has curtailed some of his powers as the constitution demands for a new election to be held in three months after parliament is dissolved.

"Now it is as if he has half power, but in his head he is considering as if he has all the powers. But the constitution says after dissolving the assembly, the president has three months to call another election," he said.

President Tandja, dissolved parliament on Tuesday, a day after Niger's constitutional court declared his bid for a referendum to stay in power unlawful.

Niger is expected to hold general elections in December, when President Tandja's second five-year term expires. But uncertainty looms after the president dissolved parliament.

Under Niger's constitution a new parliament must now be elected within three months after the president dissolves the national assembly.