Military junta seizes power in Niger coup

The junta, called the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy, has captured the president and his ministers

The junta that seized power in a military coup in Niger today identified its leader as squadron chief Salou Djibo.

Calling itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD), the junta yesterday stormed Niger's presidential palace in broad daylight. They captured president Mamadou Tandja and his ministers in a four-hour gunbattle that left at least three people dead.

In a televised announcement, a spokesman for the plotters said Niger's constitution had been suspended and all state institutions dissolved. The CSRD imposed a curfew and closed the country's borders.

In a statement today, the CSRD said its leader is Salou Djibo and that government business would be handled by heads of ministries and Niger's regions until a new government is formed.

Other leaders of the coup included Colonel Adamou Harouna, whom military sources said commands the Nigerien standby force of regional bloc the Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas), and Colonel Djibril Hamidou, a soldier and former spokesman for the junta that perpetrated a coup in 1999.

The CSRD gave no indication of how long it intended to hold power but called on Nigeriens and the international community to support its actions. Tandja, in power for more than a decade in the uranium-rich nation, is believed to be in captivity at a military barracks.

Tensions have been growing in the country since last August, when Tandja, himself a former army officer, changed the constitution to allow him to stay in power beyond his legal term limit. The move provoked a political crisis and threw Niger into isolation.

Ecowas, which has for months tried to broker a solution to the stalemate between Tandja and the opposition, has already said it would punish any unconstitutional power-grab. However, diplomats have indicated that the coup may offer the country a fresh start and open the door for elections.

The soldiers, who said they had acted to end the tense political situation, appear to have won some support among an increasingly frustrated population.

"I hope the soldiers restore some order … clean up the political environment," said taxi driver Moussa Issa. "We need to start from scratch, without being compromised by the current political class which has been discredited over the last 20 years."

Adiza Abdoulaye, a teacher in the west of the dusty capital, Niamey, said: "Right now, I think we will be able to work normally without all the pressure from the street [demonstrations] and the private radio stations the politicians occupied."

An opposition leader, Mahamadou Karijo, welcomed the coup and praised the soldiers as "honest patriots".

"They behave like they say – they are not interested in political leadership, they will fight to save the Nigerien people from any kind of tyranny," he told the BBC's Network Africa.

Lightly armed soldiers were carrying out a small number of patrols today in Niamey, where markets, banks and schools were open as usual.

Niger, one of the world's poorest countries, has experienced long periods of military rule since independence from France in 1960.

During Tandja's presidency, the French energy firm Areva has begun work on the world's second-biggest uranium mine, investing an estimated $1.5bn. China National Petroleum Corporation signed a $5bn deal in 2008 to pump oil within three years.


David Smith and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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