Lagos, 12 July-(ANA)-Niger's foreign minister has protested a decision by the European Commission to block aid payments to Niger because of attempts by the country's president to cling to power.
"I deeply regret this," Foreign Minister Aichatou Mindaoudou told AFP in a phone interview. The decision was "unfair and premature", she added.
"The president is not an illegitimate president, he is exercising a democratic and legal mandate which was granted to him by the people during free and fair elections," said the minister.
President Mamadou Tandja plans to hold a referendum on August 4 to help him win backing for a constitution change that would allow him to run for a third term in office when his tenure comes up in December.
Under the current law the 71-year-old former colonel is barred from staying in office beyond December 22, when his second elected five-year term expires.
He had already dissolved the constitutional court for ruling three times against his plan and has also dissolved parliament, which also opposed him.
Niger's opposition on Friday urged Tandja to step down and came close to accusing him of "high treason" for trying to stay in power at least until 2012.
The political crisis in the vast west African country sitting on the edge of the Sahara desert, has aroused increasing international concern.
Niger is poverty stricken and ranked among the world's bottom countries on last year's UN human development index.(ANA)