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Tags: Niger | coup | africa | soldiers

Renegade Soldiers in Niger Stage Coup

Thursday, 18 February 2010 10:11 PM EST

NIAMEY — Soldiers in Niger mounted a coup d'etat on Thursday and seized President Mamadou Tandja amid gunbattles that killed at least three troops in the impoverished but uranium-rich nation.

"The Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD) ...has decided to suspend the constitution of the Sixth Republic and dissolve all its institutions," its spokesman colonel Goukoye Abdoulkarim said.

Tandja defied local and international calls last year to change the constitution to allow himself to extend his grip on power.

Gunfire and loud explosions reverberated across the capital Niamey as soldiers assaulted the presidential palace where Tandja, the country's strongman for the past decade, presided over a cabinet meeting.

The military council declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew, and announced the closure of border entry points.

A French diplomat said Tandja's own guard took part in the coup.

Tandja was reportedly detained at a military barrack as his ministers were also held elsewhere.

"We want to know what has happened. It is our country and no one wants to set it ablaze," said one of Tandja's ministers, contacted by mobile telephone from Niamey and speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mamadou Tandja, ex-soldier who casts shadow over Niger

"We cannot move freely, we cannot go out. They have taken away Mamadou Tandja," he added.

The other minister said: "We do not know what is happening, we are not free to move about, but we have our mobile telephones with us and we are where the cabinet meeting was to take place."

The military council called on the people of Niger -- ranked last at 182 on the UN Human Development Index for 2009 -- to say calm and united around its ideals of "restoring democracy and good governance".

An African diplomat based in Niger -- a landlocked West African nation that is the world's third-biggest uranium producer -- confirmed the capture, saying several senior government figures had been arrested.

"Tandja is among them. The rebels have taken the upper hand," he said.

Another official told AFP that Tandja was believed to be held in a military barrack on the outskirts of the capital.

"President Tandja and his aide-de-camp may be held at a garrison in Tondibia," about 20 kilometres (15 miles) west of Niamey, the official said on condition of anonymity.

State radio suspended its regular programmes and played martial music.

Ex-colonel Tandja, 71, extended his term through a controversial referendum last August after dissolving parliament and the constitutional court, leading to the west African nation's isolation in the international stage.

Witnesses said they saw the bodies of at least three soldiers being lifted out of a badly damaged armoured vehicle which pulled up outside the morgue of the main hospital.

One said he had seen a rocket striking the vehicle.

At least 10 soldiers were injured, a medical source said.

France, the colonial power in Niger until independence in August 1960, urged its nationals to stay indoors. French nuclear giant Areva is the country's biggest private employer.

"We heard automatic gunfire and then large detonations. The house was shaking. It lasted about a half hour, non-stop," said Claire Deschamps, one French national living in Niamey. She said the violence began around 1200 GMT.

Army helicopters hovered over the presidency during the afternoon.

Sporadic shooting continued into the afternoon before gradually subsiding.

The city was largely calm as the population fled into their homes and soldiers deployed across the city.

Chronology: Political crisis in Niger

An AFP correspondent outside the presidency complex said he saw an armoured personnel carrier driven out of the palace gates, before he was ordered away by a soldier.

The African Union condemned the violence in Niger, the latest in a litany of states such as Guinea, Madagascar and Mauritania, where coups and unrest have replaced democratic rule.

"We are always concerned when there is threat of a coup or reports on an ongoing 'coup d'Etat' in Africa. It is contrary to what we want the continent to be, that is a continent free of coups," the AU's security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said in Addis Ababa.

The 15-nation west African grouping ECOWAS which has been mediating talks to resolve Niger's political crisis condemned the coup bid saying it "rejects any change of power through unconstitutional means and violence".

After dissolving parliament, Tandja forced parliamentary elections in October, which led ECOWAS to suspend Niger's membership. The European Union suspended development aid and the United States slapped sanctions.

Factfile on Niger

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

Mediator Abdulsalami Abubakar has drawn up a road map for a solution which proposes keeping Tandja in power during a transition period led by a "government of national reconciliation."

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved

© Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Thursday, 18 February 2010 10:11 PM
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