Rights groups say E.Guinea referendum is power grab

Sun Nov 13, 2011 4:11pm GMT

By Mark John

DAKAR (Reuters) - Equatorial Guinea held a referendum on constitutional changes on Sunday which rights groups said were an attempt by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo to strengthen his 32-year grip on power in the central African oil producer.

Obiang's government has billed the reform as a democratic advance, highlighting a clause which will put future limits on the number of terms a president can serve. The government website contains a short three-point summary of the changes.

But New York-based Human Rights Watch and local group EG Justice said the full text of the proposals includes measures such as removing an existing age limit that would have stopped 69-year-old Obiang running for a new term after the age of 75.

Other changes include the creation of a post for a vice-president who would be appointed at Obiang's discretion and would assume power once he decides to step down, and the granting of senatorial immunity to Obiang once out of office, they said.

"The government demonstrates once again its willingness to suppress citizens' rights at any cost," EG Justice's Tutu Alicante said in the statement. "Secrecy and heavy-handed government tactics are not recipes for democracy."

The statement said the full text was not widely available to voters in Equatorial Guinea. It contained a link to social publishing site scribd.com with a Spanish-language draft of the constitution with amendments to articles 33, 35 and 85 covering the vice-president post, age limit and immunity.

It said the text had been posted there by an unnamed opposition solidarity group. here

Efforts to contact the Washington-based public relations company representing Equatorial Guinea by telephone and email on Sunday were not answered.   Continued...

A file photo of  Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.  REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
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