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Niger Voters to Decide Extending President Tandja’s Term Limit

Niger's electoral commission says all is set for Tuesday's referendum that seeks to extend President Mamadou Tandja's term limits for three more years.

This follows the opposition's failure to prevent the poll after seeking a court injunction to stop the electoral body from organizing the referendum.

The government says it expects a massive turnout in support of President Tandja, whose second five year term ends later in December this year.

But opponents have vowed to thwart the poll, despite the government's threats to arrest leaders of the opposition if the vote is disrupted.

Human rights activist Abdul Kamardine told VOA that the majority of Nigeriens seem disinterested in the referendum.

"Today Tuesday August 4, Tandja is going ahead with his plan to force himself on the people of Niger…the constitutional court tried to stop him, the international community tried to negotiate with him to slow down, (but) he refused," Kamardine said.

He described the situation ahead of today's vote as a blockade.

"You need to know that the referendum is taking place… is like the state is under siege. So everywhere you can see the police, the military people, and the gendarmes," he said.

Kamardine said the government has underscored its determination to arrest opponents who have vowed to prevent the referendum.

"The interior minister came out threatening the opposition people to arrest them if they try to interrupt the process. But they are saying they will use all the legal means that the constitution allows them to stop the process," Kamardine said.

He said Nigeriens are not overly enthused about the vote.

"Here in Niamey you can see people are not showing interest. So it is only in the rural areas where they are mobilizing people. You know, my giving them money…but for sure if the election should happen … I can only see about 20 percent of the people of Niger coming out to vote," he said.

Kamardine said opponents of the referendum have been educating Nigeriens not to participate in the vote.

"The opposition is actually is enlightening the population. We know that if it (the referendum) works, we know that the international community will impose embargoes on the country starting from the European Union…to stop their financial cooperation with the state of Niger," Kamardine said.

He criticized the opposition tactics to thwart today's referendum.

"They (opposition) are saying they want to try some peaceful means to stop it. But I don't think it can work… Maybe what they are trying to do is to invade the different polling stations," he said.

President Tandja refused to shelve plans to extend his term limits for three more years despite coming under local and international pressure.

Tandja insists his actions are legal, but opponents say he could only rule by decree if Niger was under threat and parliament was in place to safeguard against abuse. Tandja dissolved the constitutional court after it ruled the referendum illegal reconstituting it with those he appointed.