NIAMEY (Reuters) - Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja dissolved the uranium-mining country’s parliament on Tuesday after its constitutional court ruled his plan to hold a referendum on a law allowing a third term in office was illegal.
The government of the desert state said this month that the septuagenarian leader, whose second and final term expires this year, would hold a plebiscite on constitutional changes to allow him to run again.
“On the advice of the prime minister and the speaker of parliament, the president of the republic signed today, May 26, 2009, a decree dissolving parliament,” state radio said, without giving any further details.
Earlier on Tuesday, the constitutional court said attempting to change the law to allow Tandja to stand for a third term as president in elections due later this year was illegal.
“The president ... cannot seek the amendment of the constitution without violating his oath,” the court said in a statement.
When the government announced Tandja’s decision to seek a referendum, it said he would take the advice of the constitutional court and of parliament, but not be bound by their decisions.
Around 20,000 people took to the streets this month to protest against the plan. At the weekend, some 20 political parties and civil groups formed an anti-referendum coalition, the Front for the Defence of Democracy (FDD).
In Niger, companies such as Areva are developing uranium mines in the north, an unstable region where a two-year rebellion by nomadic Tuaregs festers.
The French state-owned firm expects its Imouraren mine, being built at a cost of 1.2 billion euros, will be the biggest in Africa, and make Niger one of the world’s top suppliers of the nuclear fuel.
Tandja is trying to end the insurgency which has destabilised parts of the Sahara where al Qaeda also operates.
Regional body ECOWAS, which has 15 members, said last week that nearby countries could punish Niger with economic sanctions if it behaved undemocratically over the referendum proposal.
Other African leaders have abolished term limits, though not without opposition.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was allowed by deputies to stand for a third term, which he won in April. Cameroon’s President Paul Biya changed the constitution last year, a move which sparked rioting.