BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo (AP) — Voters in Republic of Congo cast their ballots Sunday on a constitutional referendum that if approved will allow the country's longtime president to seek yet another term in office.
Under the current rules, President Denis Sassou N'Guesso is barred from seeking re-election because he is already 71 and the constitution currently stipulates a 70-year-old age limit. Sassou N'Guesso called for the referendum, saying he would put the matter to the people.
His move, though, has drawn international rebuke from critics who call it undemocratic. A similar attempt by Burkina Faso's longtime president to alter the constitution gave way to that leader's overthrow last year.
Sassou N'Guesso declared Sunday that the referendum had gone ahead successfully "despite external pressures."
"Today is a great day for the Congolese people who have shown the world that they are in charge of their destiny," he said.
Sassou N'Guesso first ruled this country — often overshadowed by its enormous neighbor, Congo — from 1979 until a 1992 election defeat. He later seized power in 1997, following a civil war in which his rebel forces ousted the president. He was elected in 2002 and then again in 2009 for what was to be his second and final seven-year term.
Politicians campaigning against the referendum had called for a campaign of "civil disobedience." However by the end of the week they called for calm, after four people were killed on Tuesday in demonstrations calling for the president to step down.
Some opposition leaders called for a boycott and it seemed to be effective in some parts of southern Brazzaville.
"What the president has done is a constitutional coup to stay in power. Like other opposition leaders I didn't vote because to do so is to encourage the power of this foolishness," said Rene Serge Blanchard Oba, an opposition leader.