BRAZZAVILLE: The Republic of Congo will hold a referendum on proposals for a new constitution that could allow President Denis Sassou Nguesso to extend his hold on power, he announced Tuesday. “I decided to give the people a direct voice” on the bill, Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled for 30 of the past 35 years, said in a statement on public radio and television, though he gave no dates for the vote. The changes effectively pave the way for him to stand for a third term in 2016. Opponents have branded the forum’s conclusions a “constitutional coup.” Sassou Nguesso 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.