Congo president supporters rally for referendum

Supporters of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso show support to extend his rule with constitutional referendum

Photo by: Public Domain
Photo by: Public Domain

Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso

Thousands of supporters of Congo Republic President Denis Sassou Nguesso filled the streets of the capital Brazzaville on Saturday in support of a constitutional referendum that could see him extend his decades-long rule in polls next year.

The demonstration was held on the Boulevard Alfred Raoul, the scene of a protest organised by opponents of the referendum last month.

Sassou Nguesso, 71, who has ruled oil-producing Congo for 32 years in two separate spells in office, is banned by the current constitution from seeking another term.

Earlier this week, the government announced Oct. 25 as the date for the referendum on constitutional changes that could include raising the maximum age for presidential candidates and scrapping the two-term limit.

"This human tide simply wants to say that changing the constitution is the will of the people, and as such no one can stop it," Pierre Ngolo, secretary general of Sassou Nguesso's Congolese Party of Labour (PCT), told the crowd.

A Reuters witness who attended both rallies said Saturday's demonstration was visibly larger than last month's opposition protest. The event's organisers said that turnout topped 30,000 participants.

Despite widespread expectations that he will seek another term, Sassou Nguesso has not spoken publicly about his political future. He has said that the referendum is simply necessary to address what he claims are the constitution's shortcomings.

"Why are they attributing intentions of a third term to Sassou Nguesso? Did he tell someone? President Sassou said 'We need a referendum to make our institutions evolve,'" said Hellot Matson Mampouya, another speaker.

Leaders in a number of African nations have been trying to change constitutions to override term limits.

Burkina Faso's longtime ruler Blaise Compaore was forced to step down and flee the country last year when he attempted to force through constitutional changes.