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Congo Brazzaville Opposition Calls for Civil Disobedience

FILE - A man holds a placard reading, "Congo is not the property of Nguesso," during a demonstration against President Denis Sassou Nguesso in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, Sept. 27, 2015.

With a referendum on proposed changes to the Republic of Congo's constitution now imminent, opposition activists say they are still trying to peacefully stop the vote from taking place, arguing that the vote will be rigged.

At stake in the poll: changes that would allow President Denis Sassou Nguesso to stand for a third term and abolition of the death penalty.

Following Tuesday's violent protests against the referendum, which claimed at least four lives, Guy Romain Kinfoussia, spokesman for the opposition FROCAD-IDC alliance, says the country remains at a political crossroad.

"For people to vote there needs to be a credible electoral system, and President Sassou Nguesso’s system is based on fraud and corruption," he said. "Our message to the population, is one of civil disobedience: to stay away from town centers so that the referendum does not take place. The disobedience should be peaceful but should prevent the administration from working."

Government spokesman Thierry Moungalla has warned against violent protests.

"It is the right of those calling for civil disobedience, but they should keep within the law and not disturb the peace," said Moungalla.

Last week, French President Francois Hollande said constitutional changes in Congo Brazzaville should achieved by consensus.

Moungalla responded by saying there isn’t a political consensus on the proposed constitutional changes, so the people must decide. Earlier this week Moungalla welcomed a statement by Hollande that President Sassou Nguesso has the right to consult his people and they must reply.

According to Tcherina Jerolon, a researcher for the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the vote's legitimacy should be questioned.

"The African Union Charter on Democracy is relatively clear," she said. "Constitutional amendments aimed at preventing democratic changes of power should be avoided."

Under Sassou Nguesso’s 32-year rule the country has recovered from civil war and seen sustained economic growth.

While few observers expect the president to lose Sunday's vote,the opposition is more united than in the past, which means a yes vote could provoke further unrest.