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Niger referendum could be 'setback for democracy': US

world Updated: May 30, 2009 23:15 IST

AFP
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The United States warned on Saturday of possible "setback for democracy" in Niger after President Mamadou Tandja planned to organize a referendum granting him to stay on after his second term expires.

"The United States is concerned about recent announcements that President Tandja plans to hold a national referendum aimed at drafting a new constitution and permitting the extension of his time in office," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in a statement.

"We believe this risks undercutting Niger's hard won social, political, and economic gains of the past decade, and would be a set-back for democracy, based on the regular, peaceful transition of political power and faithful adherence to constitutional due-process."

Tandja said Friday he would go ahead with plans for a referendum on a new constitution that would allow him to stay in power after his second five-year term expires, on December 22. Tandja, 71, did not give a date for the referendum.

His announcement came after the Constitutional Court, the nation's highest court, said Monday it was opposed to the holding of the referendum. On Tuesday, Tandja dissolved parliament.

Washington, Kelly said, has shared its views with Tandja "in the interest of continuing a strong and warm relationship with the government of Niger and the Nigerien people as they move toward the end of his constitutional term in office."

Kelly also praised Tandja's work as "a good steward of Niger's national interests, attracting international investment and launching ambitious public works against a backdrop of social and political stability."

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Niger's Constitutional Court have also registered concerns about the referendum.