Niger army pledges neutrality

2009-06-30 18:05

Niamey - The military in Niger has pledged its neutrality in the political crisis rocking the country as it urged the country's protagonists to work for calm in a spirit of dialogue.

"Mindful of national unity, the defence forces do not serve partisan interests.

"Duty bound to be neutral and reserved, the armed forces cannot as such be associated with any political debate, or be involved in destabilising actions," said a statement read on state radio by army spokesperson Colonel Goukoye Abdoulkarim.

The military said the country's political players should leave them out of politics and instead focus on dialogue among themselves to "calm the situation".

Despite a history of coups, the Niger army has so far adopted a non-partisan attitude in the face of the ongoing political and legal tug-of-war between President Mamadou Tandja and the opposition.

Tenure ends

Tandja, a 71-year-old retired army colonel whose legal tenure ends in December, is fighting to cling onto power through a constitutional change.

The country's highest court has three times ruled against his plans to change the laws to let him seek a third term in office.

But on Monday night he dissolved the court, just days after he assumed emergency powers to allow him to rule by decree claiming the independence of the arid and landlocked west African nation was under threat.

An opposition alliance, the Front for the Defence of Democracy (FDD), has condemned Tandja's actions as a "coup d'etat".

FDD leader Mahamadou Issoufou called on the army not to take orders from Tandja.

Tandja was due to step down by December 22 but has been manoeuvring for months to stay on in a battle that has alienated even some of his closest allies.

The main party backing him, the Democratic and Social Convention (CDS) last week pulled out of government in protest at his campaign, but Tandja on Monday replaced the eight ministers mainly with loyalists.

Meantime, an FDD spokesperson Marou Amadou was arrested on Monday night for alleged incitement of disobedience of the security forces, conspiracy against the authority of the state and attempts aimed at demoralising the military.