| NIAMEY, June 14
NIAMEY, June 14 Tens of thousands of people
marched through Niger's capital Niamey on Sunday to protest
against President Mamadou Tandja's plans to hold a
constitutional referendum aimed at extending his rule.
Tandja is due to step down when his second term in office
ends later this year but has called for an Aug. 4 referendum
which could hand him another three years running the nation that
soon hopes to become the world's No. 2 uranium exporter.
The rally was interrupted by the death of veteran politician
Amadou Moumouni Djermakoye, who had served as foreign minister
several times and was a member of the ruling majority, but who
had joined protests against Tandja's plans.
Djermakoye, president of the Nigerien Alliance for Democracy
and Progress (ANDP), part of the ruling coalition, was taken ill
in the intense heat and died later in hospital. He was known to
have been suffering from a heart condition.
The West African country's constitutional court on Friday
annulled a presidential decree calling for the referendum,
saying it was illegal, but opposition leaders decided to go
ahead with their protest.
"The court's decision is a victory but we should not lower
our guard," said Mahamadou Issoufou, head of the opposition
Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS), which has
been spearheading the campaign against the referendum.
"With the court ruling, any order given to go ahead with the
referendum will be illegal. President Tandja must submit to
this," Issoufou said in a speech to the crowd, speaking before
Djermakoye's death was announced.
Two lawyers interviewed on state television late on Saturday
criticised the ruling by the constitutional court and questioned
"This is a difficult situation because the court's decision
in our view constitutes a threat to the continuity of the
state," said lawyer Djibrilou Souley.
Tandja's plans have sparked protests and drawn criticism
from foreign donors and regional bodies, which said they were a
step backwards and threatened sanctions against Niger.
The president says he needs the time to introduce a
fully-presidential system of government that will give the
presidency more power and end current blockages in governance.
He also says people want him to complete large
infrastructure projects, including a hydro-electric dam, an oil
refinery and French energy giant Areva's CEPFi.PA 1.2 billion
euro ($1.70 billion) Imouraren uranium mine.
The United States, however, has strongly warned against the
plan, saying it would be a set-back for democracy, while West
Africa's ECOWAS regional political body has threatened to impose
economic sanctions if Niger behaves undemocratically.
(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the
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(Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Janet Lawrence)