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Latest update : 2010-02-20

A crowd of around 10,000 rallied in Niamey on Saturday, cheering the military coup which ousted president Mamadou Tandja who had tweaked the constitution, allowing him to stay in power beyond the previous 10-year-limit.

AFP - Thousands of people rallied in Niger's capital Niamey on Saturday in support of their new military rulers after a coup ousted the strongman of the uranium-rich nation Mamadou Tandja.

A crowd of around 10,000 massed outside the parliament building in central Niamey Saturday following an appeal by an opposition coalition.

Background: Niger's political crisis

"This is a demonstration in support of the coup, we are celebrating the overthrow of the Tandja dictatorship," former lawmaker Soumana Sanda told AFP.

On Friday thousands of people spontaneously took to the streets to celebrate the coup, despite a chorus of condemnation from the United Nations and African Union which has suspended the west African country from its ranks.

The opposition Coordination of Democratic Forces for the Republic called on it backers to "participate massively" in the new pro-junta rally on Saturday.

Soldiers stormed the presidential palace as the 71-year-old Tandja chaired a cabinet meeting on Thursday. They seized the president, took him to a military establishment and detained his ministers.

Hours later the new rulers, who call themselves the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD), suspended the constitution that Tandja forced through in a contested August referendum and dissolved his government.

Tandja last year changed the constitution to hold to his post beyond a 10-year-limit, tightening his grip on power in a move that infuriated democratic forces and widened the chasm between him and the opposition.

Some analysts suggested a coup was inevitable in the impoverished west African country plunged into political crisis by Tandja, but the military ouster drew sharp international criticism.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was the latest to added his voice to the condemnation.

He "condemns the coup d'etat that took place in Niger" and "appeals for calm and for the respect of the rule of law and of the human rights of all Nigerians," Ban's office said in a statement on Friday.

The African Union (AU) announced it was suspending Niger from its ranks Friday.

"We have condemned the coup and imposed sanctions on Niger: Niger is suspended from all activities of the AU," said Mull Sebujja Katende, who presides over the AU's peace and security council.

The United States called for a "speedy return to democracy" and former colonial ruler France demanded fresh elections "in the coming months" while the European Union also condemned the coup.

A regional grouping, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expelled Niger last year after Tandja defied calls not to hold parliamentary elections under the amended constitution.

The AU has called for Niger to revert to the constitution that was in place before Tandja's controversial referendum.

Niger's new military rulers have suggested they would do so, a point that Ban highlighted in his statement.

In a statement broadcast after the coup, the CSRD pledged to make the world's third largest uranium producer a beacon of "good democracy and governance" after almost a year of political crisis.

Ban urged the junta to "proceed swiftly with these efforts through a process that is consensual and that includes all segments of Nigerian society."

Talks between Niger's government and the opposition to end the standoff were suspended last week, having repeatedly stalled since they began on December 21.

Date created : 2010-02-20


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