BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - Tens of thousands gathered in Republic of Congo’s capital on Sunday to voice their opposition to possible constitutional changes that would allow President Denis Sassou Nguesso to extend his decades-long rule in elections next year.
Protesters, some carrying signs reading “Sassou Out” and “Congo does not belong to Nguesso”, began flooding into the streets of Brazzaville in the morning, hours ahead of the afternoon rally in the city centre.
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.
However, he announced last week he would call a referendum on changes that could include raising the maximum age for presidential candidates and scrapping the two-term limit.
“The day President Sassou announces the date of the referendum, we will call upon you and we, ourselves, will be in front of you,” Andre Okombi Salissa, a former ally of the president who has come out against the proposed changes, told the crowd.
Organizers claimed that over 300,000 people attended the rally on Boulevard Alfred Raoul. There were no immediate police estimates of the crowd’s size.
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.
“If the people want to march in the streets, they are right to do so, because marches are their last means of expression when the rights, their demands are not satisfied,” said Felix Matoko, who attended Sunday’s rally.
Reporting by Philon Bondenga; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Andrew Roche