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Main opposition leader briefly detained amid deepening crisis

Video by Aurore Cloe DUPUIS


Latest update : 2009-07-01

One day after President Mamadou Tandja (pictured) dissolved Niger's highest court, opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou was briefly detained on Tuesday in a deepening crisis over the president's push to run for another term.

REUTERS - Niger's main opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou was detained briefly on Tuesday in a deepening crisis over the president's push to hold a referendum to extend his rule in the West African country.


The European Union warned President Mamadou Tandja his bid could threaten aid to Niger, one of the world's poorest countries. Former colonial ruler France, the leading investor in the uranium exporter, voiced unprecedented criticism.


Opposition leader Issoufou was taken after nightfall to the offices of the paramilitary gendarmerie in the capital, Niamey. He was released about two hours later to cheering crowds of supporters who had gathered outside.


"The solution is not to lock up the opposition. The solution is to return to legality," said teacher Fati Boubacar.


There was no official comment on the detention, but a security source said Issoufou was picked up following an opposition call on forces to disobey Tandja's orders. Niger suffered a series of coups before democracy returned in 1999.


Tandja's plan for a referendum on Aug. 4, in defiance of a court ruling that it would be illegal, has triggered street protests in Niger and prompted growing international concern over possible back-sliding on democracy.


Issoufou, runner-up to Tandja in 1999 and 2004 elections, heads the main opposition party, the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism. He has been at the forefront of the alliance against the referendum.


The opposition called for a "Dead Country" protest on Wednesday to bring business in Niger to a standstill.


Tandja dissolved the constitutional court on Monday after it ruled the referendum illegal, and has announced he will rule by decree in the national interest.





EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel said the recent decisions raised questions over a pact setting out aid and trade ties between Niger and the EU.


"(This) could have direct consequences for our cooperation," he said in a statement.


Some 458 million euros ($647 million) of EU Commission aid has been set aside for the landlocked and largely desert country of 15 million people between 2008 and 2013.


France, whose state-owned energy firm Areva is spending 1.2 billion euros on what could be Africa's largest uranium mine, expressed its concerns. It said it saw Tandja's decision to dissolve the court as a bad sign for democracy and stability.


Tandja has been in power since 1999 and was due to leave office when his second term ends later this year. The referendum plan is designed to allow him to remain president for at least three more years.


"It seems like the situation is just increasingly untenable," said Eurasia Group analyst Sebastian Spio-Garbrah.

"Power and politics being what they are, it's more often than not that leaders who have been in power for too long tend to miscalculate," he said, suggesting Tandja could face growing resistance from within the military or civil society.


The president says he needs the time to introduce a system of government that will give the president more power and end current blockages in governance.


He also says people want him to complete large infrastructure projects, including a hydro-electric dam, an oil refinery and a uranium mine that will make Niger the world's second biggest producer of the nuclear fuel.




Date created : 2009-07-01