AU suspends Niger after coup

2010-02-20 10:08

THE African Union (AU) has suspended Niger and imposed sanctions on

the west African nation in the wake of a coup that toppled power-hungry

president Mamadou Tandja.

Dissident soldiers stormed the presidential palace on Thursday

afternoon and arrested Tandja (71), whose attempts to cling on to power beyond

his second term have been blamed for the coup.

The AU announced the suspension following yesterday’s meeting of

the body’s peace and security council in the Ethiopia capital Addis Ababa and

said it would help the nation return to constitutional order.

Niger’s capital Niamey, was calm in the wake of the coup, a

resident told the German press agency dpa on condition of anonymity.

Shops were open and people were going about their business, despite

a ring of tanks and military vehicles around the palace.

The junta, which yesterday named squadron leader Salou Djibo as its

leader, has called off a curfew and also re-opened the nation’s borders.

Gunfire and the crunch of heavy weaponry around the presidential

palace heralded the coup on Thursday. Up to 10 people are believed to have died

in the battle, which lasted several hours.

Colonel Goukoye Abdul Karimou, a spokesperson for the Supreme

Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD), then announced the junta had

taken charge.

Tandja, who was seized during a cabinet meeting along with some

ministers, is reportedly being held at an army barracks.

International condemnation has poured in, but Nigeriens have

generally welcomed the coup.

Last year, the president rode roughshod over parliament and the

constitutional court to extend his rule by three years and allow himself a

chance at another term, raising tensions in the uranium-rich nation.

Tandja argued that he had to extend his term to oversee mining and

energy deals he claimed would pull the former French colony out of


Several international companies have uranium mining operations in

the country.

The consensus of international opinion is that Tandja’s actions

prompted the coup, and there now could be an opportunity to move forward and

return to real democracy – provided the junta is prepared to relinquish


Little is known about Djibo and Karimou, but one of the other coup

leaders is purported to be Djibrilla Hamidou, who was the spokesperson for the

1999 junta that ousted Colonel Ibrahim Bare and led to the elections that

brought Tandja to power.

Tandja, a former army officer himself, came to power in 1999 in the

coup-prone country, which has undergone long periods of military rule since it

broke from its colonial ruler France in 1960.

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