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Niger Prepares for Referendum on Presidential Term

The government of Niger is expecting a big turn out for Tuesday's referendum on changing the constitution to allow the president to run for a third term. Niger's parliament and constitutional court were both dissolved after opposing the move.

Prime Minister Seini Moumarou says everyone in Niger should turn out to vote in Tuesday's constitutional referendum.

The prime minister says, voters should register a massive "yes" vote to end term limits, and allow President Mamadou Tandja to extend his time in office beyond the expiration of his second term later this year.

President Tandja says there is wide-spread popular demand for him to extend his presidency to complete several large infrastructure projects, including a Chinese-financed oil refinery, a hydroelectric dam, and a French uranium mine.

But support was not forthcoming from Niger's parliament or constitutional court. Both bodies said changing the constitution to end presidential term limits would be illegal. Both bodies were subsequently dissolved by President Tandja, who is now ruling by decree.

The president also faces opposition from within his ruling coalition, including the Alliance for Democracy and Progress party, which says changing the constitution would create a "grave threat to peace and stability."

Trade unions have organized strikes to protest the referendum. Security forces used tear gas to break up two anti-referendum rallies, and a private radio station was closed for broadcasting an opposition statement about the referendum.

Abderrahaman Ousman, who heads Niger's press association, says the president will nominate who he wants to head the communications council, without consideration for that person's qualifications. The media will then be reviewed not by an independent institution but by a political one. Ousman says he is concerned about political meddling in the media in this pre-referendum period.

The Economic Community of West African States has threatened President Tandja with sanctions, if he changes the constitution to run again. The European Union says it is delaying the payment of funds meant to help support Niger's budget.

President Tandja says he serves the people of Niger, not international opinion, and is going to the referendum as an independent, sovereign leader.