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Niger to hold referendum on 3rd term
By MAMANE DALATOU
Associated Press
2009-06-06 05:22 AM
Niger's president said Friday he will go ahead with a controversial referendum Aug. 4 that could change the constitution to allow him to serve a third term in office.

President Mamadou Tandja said campaigning would begin July 13. Unions and opposition political groups have come out strongly against the referendum, and demonstrations have erupted.

Last week, the country's constitutional court rejected Tandja's call to change the constitution, saying it was illegal and would violate his oath of office. Tandja responded by dissolving the country's parliament, apparently because some of its members failed to support him.

Tandja won his first term in 1999 after his military predecessor was assassinated.

This month, he suggested holding a referendum on ending the two-term limit on the presidency. The issue was taken up by the parliament, which referred it to the constitutional court.

If approved, the referendum would also change the country's political system to presidential, instead of semi-presidential. The current system includes both a president and a prime minister.

Democracy is very much a work in progress in Africa, and only a handful of countries have had two or more successful transfers of power from one democratically elected leader to another.

Niger, a desert nation on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, has seen a succession of coups and elections since independence from France in 1960. It is regularly rated among the world's poorest countries.

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