Clashes on final day of Mauritania referendum campaign

Nouakchott (AFP) – Police and opposition activists clashed Thursday in Mauritania’s capital on the final day of campaigning for a controversial constitutional referendum.

The authorities refused to give the green light for protests opposing the constitutional changes in Nouakchott and three regions of the west African country, leading to what activists said was “excessive” use of tear gas in an area to the west of the capital.

A coalition drawn from a broad political spectrum including Islamists and anti-slavery activists in the conservative west African nation oppose measures including abolishing the senate and changing the national flag, and some are boycotting Saturday’s vote.

Saleh Ould Henenna, a spokesman for the protesters, said “we have to inform the authorities of our activities but we don’t have to wait for their approval,” denouncing “the dictatorship which governs this country.”

Activists including the head of an anti-slavery group had fainted during the rallies because of the tear gas, he said.

The clashes came just hours before President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was due to speak at his own rally, promising “revelations” about a Senate he says is corrupt.

Senators rejected the abolition of their own chamber in March, apparently to the government’s surprise as a majority are from the ruling party, prompting Aziz to call the referendum.

But the opposition fears that despite Aziz’s claims to the contrary he is laying the groundwork for a third term in power, with his own prime minister saying recently he supported the idea.

Around 20 Senators maintained a sit-in at the chamber on Thursday, under police guard.

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Opposition lawmakers from the lower house have followed suit in solidarity with their peers, a parliamentary source told AFP.

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