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Niger Ready for Referendum to Allow President to Run for 3rd Term

The government of Niger says it is expecting a big win in Tuesday's referendum to change the constitution to allow the president to run for a third term. The president's political opponents say the government has restricted their campaign against the referendum.

Prime Minister Seini Moumarou says the government is looking for a big win on Tuesday to show the strength of popular support for President Mamadou Tandja.

Mr. Moumarou told a ruling-party rally that we need a "yes" vote to demonstrate to the international community that is the sovereign people of Niger who decided to have this referendum, not the president . He said state security and defense forces will ensure the security of everyone who comes out to vote.

The prime minister made a final appeal to those who have decided not to vote in the referendum. He says that is their right in a democracy, but they do not have the right to prevent other people from voting. Mr. Moumarou says it is better to take part in the referendum and vote "no" than not to vote at all.

President Tandja's second term expires later this year. The referendum is meant to change the constitution so the 71-year-old leader can extend his time in office.

Niger's parliament and its constitutional court both said that would be illegal. President Tandja dissolved both bodies and now rules by decree.

Opposition leader Mohamadou Issoufou says the referendum amounts to a coup d'etat.

Issoufou says the president's political opponents will do their best to ensure that Tuesday's referendum fails and are relying on God's will to help them.

While the president's political opponents have held anti-referendum rallies in the capital, Issoufou says the government did not allow them to organize campaigns in many of the rural regions where he says opposition activists were arrested for speaking out against the referendum.

Trade unions have organized strikes to protest the president's move. A private radio station was closed for broadcasting an opposition statement about the referendum.

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

The president says he serves the people of Niger, not the international community.

President Tandja says this referendum is a matter between himself and the people of Niger -- a direct dialogue that does not include his political opponents.

Mr. 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.