Sibiti (Congo) (AFP) - Republic of Congo's President Denis Sassou Nguesso received the green light on Friday from a political forum on the future of the country's institutions to try extend his lengthy rule.
Participants in the "national dialogue" convened by the president, which were boycotted by the main opposition coalition, came out "by a large majority" in favour of amending the constitution to remove an upper limit on the age of presidential candidates as well as the number of terms the head of state can serve, according to a communique.
The statement read out at the end of the weeklong talks in the southwestern town of Sibiti, paves the way for a referendum on a new constitution allowing Sassou Nguesso, who has led the country for a total of 30 years, to stand for reelection in 2016.
Opposition leaders reacted angrily to the forum's conclusions, seeing in them a ploy by Sassou Nguesso to extend his rule.
"What has happened is...a constitutional coup decided by President Sassou Nguesso," Clement Mierassa of the Republican Front for the Respect of Constitutional Order and Democratic Change (FROCAD), an opposition coalition, told AFP.
"We have a responsibility to work through peaceful and democratic means to stop this coup," he added.
Under the current constitution, presidential mandates are limited to two terms and only candidates under 70 can run for the top office.
Sassou Nguesso, 72, first led the Republic of Congo under a single-party system from 1979 until the introduction of multi-party politics, which culminated in elections that he lost in 1992.
He returned to power in 1997 at the end of a bitter civil war, and was elected president in 2002, then again in 2009, prompting cries of fraud from his foes.