NIAMEY (AFP) — The main party that has backed President Mamadou Tandja on Thursday announced that it was leaving Niger's government in protest at his bid to prolong his stay in power.
The Democratic and Social Convention (CDS) said in a statement that it had on Wednesday informed the prime minister of its decision to withdraw its eight ministers from the west African country's government.
The CDS said that it was quitting because of "a difference of appreciation between our formation and the government relating to the matter of a constitutional referendum."
Meanwhile, thousands of workers went on strike across Niger on Thursday in protest at Tandja's bid to change the constitution so as to allow him a third term in office, a union source said.
"The strike has been followed by thousands of workers ... across the whole country," union leader Hassoumi Djibo told AFP. He said the action had been well supported "in banks, in the health service and in the state financial services."
Workers at hospitals and airports ensured a minimum service, he said.
Tandja has already run up against the Supreme Court in his attempt to hold a referendum on changing Niger's constitution to enable him to run for a third five-year elected term in office after his mandate expires in December.
Backing from the CDS, which is led by the speaker of a parliament Tandja dissolved last month, Mahamane Ousmane, enabled him to win the presidential elections of 1999 and 2004.
Prior to Thursday's announcement, the portfolios held by the CDS included defence, health, youth and sports.
Tandja, 71, first announced his referendum proposal early in May, but the opposition, the trade unions and non-governmental organisations all turned to the Constitutional Court, which on June 12 annulled the president's plan.
The court's decisions are binding on the head of state, whose bid to stage the referendum has also led to street protests and strikes.
Nevertheless, on Wednesday evening Tandja submitted a request to the court, asking it to retract its ruling on the grounds that it had gone beyond its competence.
The CDS on Thursday warned of "the real risks that these events represent to political and institutional stability and peace," and with eight other parties, it formed a Movement for the Defence of Democracy and the Republic.
This movement intends to work for strict respect for the constitution of the large, deeply poor, landlocked nation on the southern edge of the Sahara, said Ousmane.
"We consider that President Tandja must submit himself to the decision of the Constitutional Court," he added.
Ousmane, who also chairs the parliament of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, was speaking in public for the first time since Tandja made his intentions clear.
ECOWAS has threatened sanctions if Tandja forges ahead with the plan.
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