TENS of thousands of supporters of Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso took to the streets of the capital Brazzaville on Saturday to back his controversial bid to change the constitution in order to remain in power, an AFP journalist said.
The rally comes ahead of an October 25 referendum that will determine whether the veteran leader—who has already had three decades in power—can seek another presidential term.
The constitution currently bars the 72-year-old from running again as there is an age limit of 70 as well as a ceiling of two mandates.
The Congolese government said Monday that the referendum would be on scrapping both the two-term limit and the age cap.
Saturday’s rally comes a day after the authorities opened the campaign period for the referendum.
Some Sassou Nguesso supporters at the event wore T-shirts reading “Yes to changing the constitution” and “Let’s go vote”.
Banners floated above the crowd reading “Yes to the Referendum”, “Yes to a New Republic” and “Sassoui”—a play on the leader’s name and the French word for yes.
Sassou Nguesso is among several African leaders who have sparked controversy by seeking to extend their stranglehold on power.
Similar recent moves by his peers have resulted in violence, notably in Burundi where President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial and globally condemned third term sparked an abortive coup and a sweeping crackdown.
And late last year, the iron-fisted ruler of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, was toppled by popular street protests after trying to prolong his 27-year-rule and a recent coup attempt by one of his closest aides lasted only a week.
Sassou Nguesso was president from 1979 to 1992. He then served as opposition leader and returned to power at the end of a brief civil war in 1997 in which his rebel forces ousted president Pascal Lissouba.
He was elected president in 2002, then again in 2009, when his opponents cried foul.