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Bullets, Tear Gas in Brazzaville Ahead of Vote on Term Limits


FILE - Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, February 8, 2012.
FILE - Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, February 8, 2012.

Security forces opened fire in the Republic of Congo Tuesday as they clashed with protesters who oppose a bid by President Denis Sassou N'guesso to extend his rule.

The French news agency reports that at least six people were hospitalized with gunshot wounds after confrontations in the capital, Brazzaville.

On Sunday, Congo will vote on proposed constitutional reforms that would abolish a two-term limit for presidents and an age limit of 70 for presidential candidates.

Tsomambet Anaclet, a spokesman for opponents of the referendum, told VOA that Tuesday's clashes began when police dispersed demonstrators as they tried to assemble.

Witnesses say police fired tear gas in addition to live rounds.

Phone and internet services were reported to be out in much of the city.

Sassou N'guesso, who has ruled Congo for all but five of the last 36 years, announced plans for the referendum last month. Without the changes, the president would have to leave office at the end of his current term next year.

Sassou N'guesso first seized power in a 1979 coup, then lost it in a 1992 election. He retook power in 1997 in a bloody civil war, and won elections in 2002 and 2009 in votes that were boycotted by most of the opposition.

Sassou N'guesso is one of several African leaders who have sparked controversy by seeking constitutional changes to extend their time in office.

In Burkina Faso, longtime president Blaise Compaore was ousted by a popular uprising last year after he tried to abolish term limits.

In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza sparked weeks of violent protests when he announced he would seek a third term in April. He was re-elected in July in a vote boycotted by the opposition.

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