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Soldiers in control of Niger one day after coup

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-02-20

Niger’s new junta has dissolved President Mamadou Tandja’s government and vowed to "restore democracy and good governance", a day after toppling the unpopular leader in a violent coup.

Africa's constitutional flip-flops
Niger’s military coup leaders were in control of the country on Friday after dissolving the government on Thursday and toppling President Mamadou Tandja in the uranium-rich central African country.

A military group called the “Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy” (CSRD) announced that its head would be Squadron Leader Salou Djibo, whose unit played a key role in Thursday's coup.

"The government is dissolved," said a statement read by an unnamed military officer on state television. "The CSRD informs the population that public business will be run by secretaries of ministries and local government administrators."

The new ruling junta announced on Friday that it will re-open the borders and lift the curfew. Tandja is currently being held by the junta and is “doing very well”, according to an AFP source. The city returned to calm on Friday, with soldiers deployed across the city.

‘Tandja didn’t want to let go of power’

FRANCE 24 Observer Alessandro Sinclair, in the capital, Niamey, said, “It’s calmer than yesterday, the soldiers have blocked the presidential palace, the airport and other key places, but there haven’t been any other battles.

“For the people of Niger, life continues as before. Everything is open – markets, boutiques, gas stations – and the people have left for work this morning like always. Only the expats have stayed at home – UN offices are closed.”

Independent journalist Boubacar Diallo, also in the capital, told FRANCE 24: “The people are happy because they (the junta) have ended a useless debate that has been slowing down Niger for nine months,” he added.

Tandja, an ex-colonel, has been in power after first winning elections in 1999. Last August, he defied outcry both at home and abroad to change the constitution and extend his rule to a third term.

That move made yesterday’s coup not entirely unexpected, according to international diplomats and experts.

Douglas Yates, a political science professor at the American University of Paris told FRANCE 24 that “after getting re-elected in 2004, there were a series of negotiations for big uranium contracts, and it appears that Tandja didn’t want to let go of power.”

Niger is ranked last at 182 on the UN Human Development Index for 2009, but holds about a third of the world’s uranium reserves. French nuclear giant Areva is the country's biggest private employer.

So far the coup leaders have given no indication of how long they will hold power but have asked for support from the international community.

International reactions

After condemning the takeover, the African Union urged for the restoration of the constitution.

Calling for dialogue in the former French colony, France has also criticised the military assault. "France condemns the taking of power by non-constitutional means," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) told the BBC they condemn the attack and had “zero tolerance” for any unconstitutional changes of government. Sanctions imposed by the community are expected until democracy has been restored.

South African President Jacob Zuma has urged the junta to respect the constitution.




Date created : 2010-02-19


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