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Election Officials: Niger President Wins Bid to Extend Rule

The president of Niger has won a referendum to end term limits and allow him to run again. The president's political opponents say turnout was lower than reported for Tuesday's referendum.

Niger's electoral commission says more than 92 percent of voters approved changes to the constitution allowing President Mamadou Tandja to run for re-election when his current term expires in December.

Electoral officials say 68 percent of the six million eligible voters cast ballots in Tuesday's referendum, despite calls by the president's political opponents to boycott the vote.

The opposition Party for Democracy and Socialism says it believes fewer than five percent of voters took part in the poll.

Bazoum Mohammed, the party's deputy president, says most people honored the opposition boycott and stayed home because they did not want to be associated with the vote. He says the results released by the electoral commission are a fabrication.

Opposition demonstrators successfully prevented 30 polling stations from opening in the western Tahoua region, where opposition leader Mohamadou Issoufou called on all "sincere democrats and patriots" to mobilize against the vote.

Electoral Commission chief Moumouni Hamidou says none of those disruptions affected the overall outcome of the referendum, as more than 1,900 polling stations across Niger did open.

Constitutional term limits would have prevented President Tandja from running again. Now the 71-year-old leader is eligible to ask voters for three more years in power and to run again after that if he wants to.

The Economic Community of West African States has threatened to sanction President Tandja if he changes the constitution. The European Union has suspended aid because it says the government is committing "grave violations" of the rule of law and democratic values.

Niger's parliament and its constitutional court both told the president that removing term limits would be illegal. President Tandja dissolved both bodies and now rules by decree.

Mr. Tandja says the referendum was a matter between himself and the people of Niger - a direct dialogue that did not include his political opponents or the international community.