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Equatorial Guinea holds referendum on constitutional changes

The Republic of Equatorial Guinea [official website, in Spanish] held a referendum [press release, Spanish] on Sunday that would institute a number of changes to the country's constitution [text, in Spanish]. The proposed reforms include a limit on the number of terms a president can serve, the creation of the office of vice president and a provision allowing the current president to pick his successor, as well as the removal of an existing age limit on the presidential office. While the county's government has called the reform democratic [Reuters report], opponents of the referendum have criticized the move as a grab for power by President Teodoro Obiang. In a joint statement [text], Human Rights Watch (HRW) and EG Justice [advocacy websites] said the constitutional changes "will strengthen the near-absolute powers of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and further deprive citizens of their civil and political rights." They sharply criticized the provision allowing the president to choose his vice president, arguing that the change would allow Obiang "to hand-pick his successor and to retain significant political influence even after he leaves office." The final official vote count on the referendum is expected sometime Tuesday.

Equatorial Guinea has been criticized by international human rights groups in the past. In August 2010, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] condemned the execution [press release] of four men convicted [JURIST report] of attempting to assassinate Obiang during a 2009 attack on the presidential palace. Denouncing the government's judicial procedures, AI reported that these men were convicted after an unfair trial, sentenced to death and executed without having an opportunity to appeal their sentence. AI urged Equatorial Guinea to put an end to the abductions, torture and executions it carries out in the name of justice. Obiang defended [JURIST news report] the trial and execution of the four men. He stated that the country's laws were respected, and procedures guaranteeing a legal, open and fair trial, including the guarantee of defense counsel, were followed.

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