BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo (AP) — The longtime president of Republic of Congo said Tuesday he is going ahead with a national referendum on whether to change the country's constitution, a move that critics say will allow him to prolong his rule by raising the current maximum age limit to serve as president.
If the vote goes ahead, it would be the latest test in Africa of whether a president can bend the rules to keep his position without being forced from office.
The president of Burkina Faso ultimately was ousted in a popular uprising after he tried to modify the constitution in parliament so he could stay in office longer than the 27 years he had already served. Opposition to a third term also has sparked violence in Burundi, where the president ultimately won re-election in a vote despite opposition claims that his candidacy was unconstitutional.
While no date was yet given for the referendum in Republic of Congo, President Denis Sassou N'Guesso said ultimately voters — not him — would choose whether the constitution should be changed.
"I have decided to give people directly their turn to speak," he said Tuesday.
By the time his terms ends next year, Sassou N'Guesso already will have served more than 30 years in power in this Central African nation though not continuously.
He first ruled the country of some 4 million people from 1979 until a 1992 election defeat, and seized power again in 1997. He was elected in 2002 and then again in 2009 for what was to be his second and final seven-year term.
Sassou-N'Guesso won the 2009 elections with more than 78 percent of the vote, though the opposition claimed there had been vote-rigging and intimidation.
The current constitution states that candidates must be 70 years old or younger, and Sassou N'Guesso is already 71.
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.