Niger’s lawyers said on Sunday they would strike this week in protest at the president’s plan to hold a referendum on extending his rule, a day after the European Union delayed an aid payment over the vote row.

Despite mounting opposition at home and abroad, President Mamadou Tandja is pushing ahead with an August 4 vote to allow him to hold on to power for another three years in the uranium producing country after his second term expires in December.

“The General Assembly of the Order of Lawyers has decided to lay down its robes and not work on Monday, July 13, 2009 in solidarity with the Constitutional Court,” the lawyers said in a statement referring to Niger’s top court.

The court was dissolved last month after it declared Tandja’s plans illegal. The president has also dissolved parliament, assumed emergency powers and imposed restrictions on the private press in his bid to hold the poll.

The 71-year-old president addressed the nation on Sunday evening, saying only the people of Niger could decide whether he should stay on as president but they should vote “yes” to consolidate progress and build a better future.

He called for people to judge him by the progress he had delivered and said he welcomed debate, but warned the state would take measures to ensure law and order was maintained.

Critics including regional body ECOWAS, the United Nations and donors, have called the referendum a step backwards after some progress towards democracy over the last decade, but the EU is the first body to impose financial sanctions.

“Because of the influence this could have on the management of public finances, it has been decided to postpone the payment of a tranche of budget support,” a European Commission official in Brussels told Reuters on Sunday



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