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Niger’s Tandja Vows to Sustain Referendum Despite Protests

Niger's embattled President Mamadou Tandja has vowed to go ahead with his planned 4 August referendum despite international condemnation.

At a news conference Thursday, President Tandja dismissed international pressure about his plan, saying Nigeriens want him to stay.

But the opposition contends that President Tandja is subverting the constitution, describing the referendum as a coup d'état.

Tandja, whose second five-year term ends in December, wants to change the constitution to extend his rule for three more years.

Alhaji Mahamadou Abubakar Dan Dubai is the chief supporter of Tandja's constitutional reform. He told VOA that the opposition cannot stop the 4 August referendum.

"It is not President Tandja who asked about the referendum, no. Major people say Tandja is the best president. He is a very good president and he works for the people very nicely, so he has to stay," Dubai said.

He said supporters of the president wanted him to continue with good works.

"When the people talked and they made their manifestation… the president is okay. No problem. The people like me (and) I like them," he said.

Dubai dismissed the recent ruling of the constitutional court declaring the 4 August referendum illegal.

"Let me tell you something. Anywhere in the world in the big countries, they say democracy, what is democracy? This is the best democracy Tandja (brought) to Niger. This is democracy, what the people need. And the president has to respect it. The government has to respect it and has to do it. That is democracy," Dubai said.

He said it would be wrong for President Tandja to refuse the will of the people.

"When the people need something and the government says no, this is dictatorship. We are Niger people, and we say we like our president. We are the ones who do elections and we put a president there. And again the people came out and said we need our president. What is the problem"? he asked.

Dubai rejected opposition claims that the referendum is a coup d'état.

"You know the problem? The opposition in Niger. They are not capable to do what Tandja did in this country," he said.

Dubai said supporters of the president are urging him to press ahead with his developmental plans and not to be distracted by the opposition.

"When Tandja became president, Tandja got only 630 million (CFA), like one million dollar only… Now, we are very rich because of Tandja. We don't have any crisis… We want Tandja to stay," Dubai said.

The opposition has expressed determination to thwart the referendum. Abdul Kamardine is a human rights activist. He told VOA that Nigerians are outraged over Tandja's refusal to hand over power after his second term expires in December.

"They (Nigeriens) are actually surprised the old man is holding onto power because some people are even saying, maybe an old man of more than 70 years, he (Tandja) may be sick as well," Kamardine said.

He said there is speculation that those around the embattled president are urging him to stay.

"So what people understand is there are some lobbies who are trying to protect their financial and economic gains in the fields of uranium mining and petroleum mining… so that is why those people are pushing him not to go," he said.

Kamardine said that by campaigning in the upcoming referendum, the opposition would be endorsing an illegal act.

"Right from the beginning, the Constitutional Court has ruled that it is unlawful to go ahead with that organization. So for them (opposition) to come out and be campaigning against, it is like participating in that masquerade," Kamardine said.

Some political observers say Tandja's planned referendum has plunged the country in a deep political crisis. To hold the controversial poll, Tandja, has dissolved both parliament and the Constitutional Court. The opposition has voiced outrage and is threatening to stage a coup and use all legal means to prevent the referendum.