AFP - Clashes erupted Tuesday in several Niger towns between police and protestors opposed to a constitutional referendum aimed at extending President Mamadou Tandja's grip on power, police and the opposition said.
In one small town of Illela, in the western Tahoua town, an opposition stronghold, police fired teargas at a group of protestors trying to block access to two polling stations, said a police officer who asked not be named.
"The police used teargas to disperse demonstrators who were trying to prevent the polling," the police officer told AFP.
An opposition politician who also sought anonymity reported similar clashes in two other localities around Tahoua, a stronghold of Mamadou Issoufou, an outspoken opponent of Tandja's regime.
Several opposition activists were arrested in southwestern Dosso town for staging anti-referendum protests, a member of the opposition Alliance for Democracy and Progress said.
Interior Minister Albade Abouba, who had already warned at the weekend that any violent attempts to influence the outcome of the vote would be dealt with severely, confirmed the arrests but gave no details.
"Those who were arrested know why ... for violating the law," he said on one of the local private radio stations.
Tandja has defied parliament and the constitutional court to hold the referendum insisting that he is responding to a popular demand for the vote.
Outside Niger fears are rising that the referendum might plunge the west African country into turmoil.