Niger anti-referendum protests turn violent

Mon Jun 1, 2009 2:34pm GMT

* First violent protests against Tandja's power plan

* Widespread domestic opposition to referendum bid

By Adboulaye Massalatchi

NIAMEY, June 1 (Reuters) - Security forces in Niger fired teargas at people protesting on Monday against President Mamadou Tandja's plan to change the constitution to extend his rule of the uranium-mining state, officials and witnesses said.

Protesters set fire to vehicles in the town of Dosso, 140 km (88 miles) to the west of Niamey, in the first violent display of disapproval of Tandja's bid to hold a referendum on changing the constitution so he can stay in power another three years.

Opposition to the president's plans had so far been peaceful but investors have expressed fears that heightened political instability may delay mining projects in a country that hopes to become the world's No. 2 exporter of uranium.

In the latest sign of rising tensions, hundreds of youths opposed to the plan threw stones at a pro-Tandja meeting, regional governor Issoufou Oumarou said on local radio.

"For the moment we don't know if anyone has been killed or injured and there have been no arrests, but it's clear that those responsible for these acts will face the consequences."   Continued...

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