* Interior minister says referendum to take place
* Parliamentary election also to go ahead on Aug. 20
* Government warns opposition over disobedience call
By Abdoulaye Massalatchi
NIAMEY, June 28 Niger will hold a referendum on
whether President Mamadou Tandja can extend his rule on Aug. 4
despite a decision by the country's highest court that it would
be illegal, the government said on Sunday.
Tandja's plan to hold onto power has brought protests by
unions and drawn criticism from foreign donors and regional
political bodies, which call them a step backwards for the
uranium-producing West African country.
Tandja is due to step down when his second term ends later
this year, but wants a referendum which could let him stay three
more years. After the Constitutional Court again rejected the
plan on Friday, he announced he would rule by decree.
Interior Minister Albade Abouba said on Sunday that both the
referendum and an Aug. 20 parliamentary election would go ahead.
"The elections will very well take place, starting with the
referendum," he said on state media. "The independent electoral
commission cannot reject the referendum. It's job is solely to
organise and supervise the elections."
The electoral commission has not refused to organise the
referendum, but pointedly made no mention of it when it set the
date for the parliamentary election.
Abouba sent a warning to Niger's opposition, which described
Tandja's decision to assume sweeping powers as a coup and urged
security forces to disobey him.
The landlocked former French colony of 15 million people,
which stretches to the heart of the Sahara desert, hopes to
become the world's second biggest producer of uranium. It is one
of the poorest countries in the world.
The president says he needs the time to introduce a fully
presidential system of government that will give the president
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 Imouraren
(Editing by Matthew Tostevin)