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Page last updated at 12:54 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 13:54 UK

Tear gas disperses Niger protest

President Mamadou Tandja, March 2009
Mr Tandja's backers say he has provided prosperity

Security forces in Niger have used batons and tear gas to disperse a group of women protesting at the president's attempts to hold on to power.

About 100 women from the main opposition coalition tried to hold a sit-in outside the constitutional court in the capital, Niamey.

President Mamadou Tandja wants to hold a referendum to decide if he should be allowed to seek a third time in office.

But critics say the move would risk the country returning to dictatorship.

There have been large scale protests against the referendum, scheduled for 4 August.

Parliament dissolved

But the president's supporters argue he should be allowed a third term, saying he has brought prosperity to the country in the 10 years since he assumed power.

map

He is due to step down in December.

The BBC's Idy Baraou, in Niamey, says the local gendarmerie broke up the protest by women from the the Front for the Defence of Democracy.

They fired tear gas canisters and some of the women were beaten with batons.

The demonstration comes as opposition politicians have urged Nigeriens to boycott the referendum.

Mr Tandja, 70, dissolved parliament and abolished the Constitutional Court after both institutions opposed his proposed referendum.

Earlier this week the country's lawyers went on strike to show solidarity with the court.

Mr Tandja was first elected in 1999, and then again five years later.

He had previously promised to quit in December this year, a month after presidential elections are due to be held.



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