On Tuesday the government of Congo-Brazzaville cut all forms of public communications, including internet and SMS services, ahead of a referendum vote on Presidential term limits and age restrictions.
President Denis Sassou Nguesso is currently seeking a third term, despite a constitutional limit of two terms for presidents in Congo-Brazzaville. The referendum also seeks to change the age restriction for presidential candidates. The present law states that a presidential candidate older than 70 years of age would be ineligible to run, making incumbent President Nguesso, at the age of 71, unable to seek another term.
President Nguesso ruled Congo-Brazzaville from 1979-1992, and was again elected President in 1997 following the conclusion of a civil war. During the 2009 election President Nguesso received 79% of the vote. However, half of the opposition boycotted the election in reaction to electoral fraud and irregularities.
According to the news agency Agence Presse Francaise (AFP) clashes erupted between gendarmes and protesters from the opposition across Brazzaville. The protests were not limited to the capital and five opposition leaders were temporarily detained by the police in the city of Pointe-Noire the economic hub of the country. According to the AFP the government justified the communications cut on the grounds that Tuesday was not a “national holiday”, and therefore public gatherings were banned.
The opposition characterized President Nguesso’s proposed referendum a “constitutional coup d’etat”. The move has also been met with concern by the international community.
Nonetheless, President Nguesso does have some support amongst his people. On Saturday, tens of thousands of his supporters attended a rally in favor of changing the term and age limits outlined in the constitution.