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Africa
President seized in Niger coup
Coup leaders suspend constitution after soldiers storm presidential palace in capital.
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2010 21:52 GMT

Tandja dissolved the parliament last year and extended his mandate beyond a second term [EPA]

The president of the West African nation of Niger has been taken hostage after armed soldiers stormed the presidential palace in the capital, Niamey, witnesses said.

At least three soldiers were killed in the violence on Thursday, which came after witnesses reported hearing machine gunfire near the palace where Mamadou Tandja, the country's president, was believed to be holding a meeting.

The military leaders of the coup later announced they had suspended the country's constitution and dissolved all state institutions.

The statement was read over state television by Colonel Goukoye Abdul Karimou, a spokesman for the military group calling itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD).

'President being held'

A journalist in the capital, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons, said the president is currently being held by soldiers at a garrison in the city.

"The rebels have taken the president to a certain place, pending he submits his resignation," he told Al Jazeera.

Niger at a glance

 

  The country has a population of 15.3 million according to a 2009 estimate.
  It declared its independence from France in 1960.
  French is the official language, though several local languages are also spoken.
  Islam is the main religion, though there is a Christian minority in the south and traditional African religions are also present.
  Niger is one of the world's leading producers of uranium, producing about 7.5 per cent of the world's supply.
  Two-thirds of the country is desert, with its only fertile area along the Niger River.
Sources: Reuters, CIA World Factbook

"They want the president to resign by himself from the position.

"Armed soldiers are now controlling the presidential palace and they also took government ministers when they took the president."

The AFP news agency earlier cited a French official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, as saying the violence was a "coup attempt" that security officials were trying to put down.

"All I can say is that it would appear that Tandja is not in a good position," he said.

Political tensions have risen in Niger since Tandja dissolved the parliament last year and extended his own mandate following a referendum beyond a second term.

In June, Tandja dissolved the constitutional court that had ruled against him and assumed the power to rule by decree, brushing aside international criticism of the move, saying he was answerable only to the people of Niger.

The opposition disputed the August 4 referendum that allowed Tandja to stay in power until 2012, after he was supposed to step down in December following two five-year terms in a row.

Public disenchantment

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Niamey in November, calling for Tandja to resign.

The opposition Coordination of Democratic Forces for the Republic (CFDR), which comprises political parties, human rights and labour organisations, had denounced the referendum as a "coup" and called for fresh elections to be organised.

The opposition also boycotted October 20 legislative elections, after which the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) suspended Niger as a member and the European Union put a freeze on its development aid.

Themon Djaksam, an African affairs analyst, said there is growing disenchantment among Nigeriens towards Tandja.

"[He has] not been delivering as they had expected," he told Al Jazeera.

"I think the president is going to have a few loyal [supporters]. But there's no doubt that the coup is going to be largely supported [in Niger] because there's a growing disenchantment with the situation generally."

Tandja has ruled the uranium-rich Saharan state since 1999.

The country has gone through five constitutions and periods of military rule since it gained independence from France in 1960.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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