Niger lawyers to strike

Niger’s lawyers said yesterday they would strike this week in protest at the president’s plan to hold a referendum on extending his rule, a day after the EU delayed an aid payment over the vote row.
Despite mounting opposition at home and abroad, President Mamadou Tandja is pushing ahead with an August 4 vote to allow him to hold on to power for another three years in the uranium producing country after his second term expires in December.
“The General Assembly of the Order of Lawyers has decided to lay down its robes and not work today in solidarity with the Constitutional Court,” the lawyers said in a statement referring to Niger’s top court.
The court was dissolved last month after it declared Tandja’s plans illegal.
The president has also dissolved parliament, assumed emergency powers and imposed restrictions on the private press in his bid to hold the poll.
The 71-year-old president addressed the nation yesterday evening, saying only the people of Niger could decide whether he should stay on as president but they should vote “yes” to consolidate progress and build a better future.
He called for people to judge him by the progress he had delivered and said he welcomed debate, but warned the state would take measures to ensure law and order was maintained.
Critics including regional body ECOWAS, the UN and donors, have called the referendum a step backwards after some progress towards democracy over the last decade, but the EU is the first body to impose financial sanctions.
“Because of the influence this could have on the management of public finances, it has been decided to postpone the payment of a tranche of budget support,” a European Commission official in Brussels told Reuters yesterday.
The official, who asked not to be named, did not say how much money would be held back but said the EU has intensified discussions with the government.
“Total confusion”
Niger’s main opposition parties have called on their supporters to block and boycott the planned constitutional referendum, and opposition members of the national election commission have resigned in protest against the vote.
The commission has said the poll will take place as planned.
“Nigeriens are living in total confusion. All the powers have been concentrated in one man while we are being told that the laws are being respected and democracy exists,” said Coulibaly Moussa, president of the bar in Niger.
“This is inadmissible,” he added.
Calls for a strike follow US President Barack Obama’s visit to Ghana when he encouraged Africans to hold their leaders accountable and criticised those on the continent who used coups or changed constitutions to stay in power.
Tandja says he needs more time in charge to carry out political reforms, which would hand more powers to the president, and complete infrastructure projects, including a dam, a Chinese-funded oil refinery and a massive uranium mine.
The €1.2 billion (R13 billion) investment by French state nuclear giant Areva is expected to make the impoverished desert nation the world’s No.2 uranium producer.