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THE INDEX — July 17, 2009

Ten major opposition groups pledged to form a unified coalition against Niger president Mamadou Tandja--a strengthened effort to prevent the two-term leader from unilaterally eliminating term limits in defiance of the existing constitution and the nation's courts. In a narrative that is all to familiar to developing countries, Tandja announced earlier this year that he will hold a referendum on a new constitution that would allow him to continue ruling despite judicial objections. A joint statement by ten opposition groups asked Tandja to retract his referendum demand, "to prevent Niger from sliding into darkness." But some of Niger's leaders, including Moussa Ibrahim, Niger's ambassador to Nigeria, said a referendum would still allow voters to deny Tandja his office. ”The best thing is to go to the people and ask them if they want President Mamadou Tandja to continue in office or not and this can be done through a referendum,” he said. Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has declared that Iran is in a “crisis” and has called upon the release of imprisoned protestors throughout the nation. Addressing thousands of supporters during a sermon Friday at Tehran University, the Iranian leader stressed that voters' doubts must be addressed by the government and that all Iranians “are losers in the election.” Some 15 individuals were reportedly arrested during the sermon as pro-Mousavi supporters flooded the university campus chanting the slogan “freedom, freedom.” Former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi was also present--marking his first public appearance since the contentious June 12 vote. Rafsanjani is one of the most influential individuals in Iran as he heads both the Expediency Council, the body that settles parliamentary disputes, and the Assembly of Experts, which advises and appoints Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. The Friday sermon followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appointment of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie to the position of vice president. Mashaie has been criticized by Ahmadinejad supporters for being too lenient with Israel, which he has called “a friend of Iran.”

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