Nigeria: Junta urged to make way for vote in Niger

Niger’s new military junta had not announced plans for an election by yesterday and had not said how long it would hold power after a coup that ousted the uranium-rich west African country’s dictatorial president.

After Thursday’s coup, the junta immediately suspended the country’s constitution.

The coup was staged to unseat Mamadou Tandja, who had stayed in office months past his legal mandate.

International condemnation was swift, and a delegation from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) , led by former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar, who was mediating the country’s political crisis, flew to Niger to press for a peaceful transition.

The political opposition at the weekend urged the country’s new military rulers to hold elections as soon as possible and restore civilian rule.

The call came as thousands of people rallied in the capital, Niamey.

“The army loves the people and will always stand beside Niger,” leading junta member Capt Djibril Adamou Harouna told the crowd.

The military turned against Tandja in a brazen daylight raid. After brief fighting in which several soldiers were killed, the president was taken to a military barracks outside the capital.

Hours later, the junta was announced in charge, led by little- known commander Salou Djibo.

The coup has been condemned by the United Nations and foreign governments. But many in the capital, at least, expressed relief that Tandja had gone.

Tandja had grown deeply unpopular after pushing through a referendum in August that replaced the country’s former constitution with a new one that removed a limit on how many times he could run for president.

It also gave him more power and an unprecedented three-year extension of his rule before new elections could be held.

Tandja’s bid to stay in power prompted Ecowas to suspend Niger from its ranks, and the US and Europe to cut off aid.

Restoration of aid will likely be tied to the holding of elections.

Source: www.businessday.co.za, 20100222

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