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The vice president of the Comoros, who recently denounced President Azali Assoumani's plans for a constitutional referendum as "illegal", has been stripped of most of his duties as part of a cabinet reshuffle.

As vice president, Ahmed Said Jaffar had been in charge of eight ministries, including the agriculture, energy and industry portfolios.

But following the shakeup, he was only left with one - the social cohesion ministry, according to an official decree published on Thursday.

Earlier this month, Jaffar had very publicly criticised Assoumani's plans for a July 29 referendum which could allow the president to remain in power beyond 2021 when his term would otherwise end.

Under the current constitution, there is a rotation of power every five years between the three main islands that make up this Indian Ocean archipelago which lies between Mozambique and Madagascar.

But if the referendum passes, it could allow Assoumani to run for two new five-year terms, a move that Jaffar has condemned as "illegal" and a threat to the country's political future.

Earlier this week, he also sent a letter to the African Union (AU) in which he said Assoumani should abandon such plans. They risk "plunging the country into a deep political crisis," he wrote.

Assoumani, who was elected in 2016, has three vice presidents who took office at the same time but under the constitution, he does not have the power to dismiss them.

Comoros was plunged into crisis in April when Assoumani suspended the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country, sparking opposition protests.

On May 20, former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, one of Assoumani's leading critics, was placed under house arrest at his home near the capital Moroni. He filed suit to challenge the order but lost his appeal on Thursday.

Another prominent opposition leader - Ahmed el-Barwane, secretary general of the Juwa opposition - was jailed earlier this month following violent clashes between security forces and anti-government demonstrators.

The planned referendum has sparked widespread demonstrations and clashes across these volcanic islands which won independence from France in 1975 but has since been blighted by a string of political crises and coups.

A new constitution was adopted in 2001 which stipulated the rotation of power every five years between the three islands - Anjouan, Grande-Comore and Moheli, which have a population of around 800 000 people, nearly all of them Sunni Muslims.

Assoumani served as president following a bloodless coup in 1999, staying in power until 2006. He then stood down after losing power to Sambi who served until 2011.

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