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Niger: Military coup ousts leader

Summary & Comment: A coup has taken place in Niger, and the president has been captured after a gun battle in the capital, Niamey. Elsewhere in the country, traffic and markets continued uninterrupted. A twice-postponed ECOWAS meeting to consider the constitutional impasse in Niger took place in Abuja, Nigeria on 16 February. DN

Author: Idy Baraou. BBC, IRIN, Niamey Date Written: 18 February 2010
Primary Category: Western Region Document Origin: BBC News & IRIN News
Secondary Category: AU/NEPAD Source URL: http://www.irinnews.org
Key Words: Niger, military coup, ECOWAS, food security, economy,

African Charter Article #23: All peoples shall have the right to national and international peace and security. (Click for full text...)

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1. Military coup ousts Niger leader
2.  Constitution crisis turned coup
3. La crise constitutionnelle s’aggrave au Niger

1. Military coup ousts Niger leader

A coup has taken place in Niger and the president has been captured after a gun battle in the capital, Niamey. In a television announcement, a spokesman for the plotters said Niger's constitution had been suspended and all state institutions dissolved. The country was now being led by a group called the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD), the spokesman said. President Mamadou Tandja is believed to be in captivity at a military barracks. Reports say government ministers are also being held.
Making the announcement on television, the spokesman for the coup leaders, wearing a military uniform, was surrounded by a large group of soldiers. He called on the people of Niger to "remain calm and stay united around the ideals postulated by the CSRD", to "make Niger an example of democracy and good governance. We call on national and international opinions to support us in our patriotic action to save Niger and its population from poverty, deception and corruption," he added. A newsreader on Niger television said the country's borders had been closed and a curfew was now in force.
Tensions have been growing since last year in the uranium-rich nation.
Mr Tandja was widely criticised when he changed the constitution in August to allow him to stand for a third term.
Long-term tensions

A BBC correspondent said earlier that tanks were firing and witnesses reported seeing injured people being taken to hospital.

Idy Baraou
BBC News, Niamey

The exchange of gunfire has been between soldiers but it is confusing and one cannot tell one side from another. I saw tanks being fired and soldiers on the streets using machine guns. The area near the presidential palace is where the business of government takes place and at least four military barracks are based there. People have fled the area and some civil servants have locked themselves inside their offices. Earlier, smoke could be seen from the roof of the office where President Mamadou Tandja was holding his cabinet meeting.
An unnamed French official told AFP that the president had been seized. "All I can say is that it would appear that Tandja is not in a good position," he told the news agency on condition of anonymity. Soldiers captured Mr Tandja while he was chairing his weekly cabinet meeting, a government source told the BBC. AFP later reported an official as saying Mr Tandja was possibly being held at a military barracks about 20km (13 miles) west of Niamey. A witness told the news agency that the bodies of three soldiers had been taken to a military mortuary. The situation in Niamey remains unclear - there has apparently been no large-scale deployment of military personnel.
The government and opposition have been holding on-off talks since December - mediated by the regional body ECOWAS - to try to resolve the country's political crisis.
Constructive engagement
ECOWAS has told the BBC that it is closely following developments in Niger. The organisation's political director, Abdel-Fatau Musah, said that, if needed, ECOWAS would be in the country as quickly as it could to ensure order was maintained and constitutional order restored as soon as possible. Mr Musah said that while Ecowas would never recognise a military takeover, it would maintain a constructive engagement with those in authority in Niger. Mr Tandja, a former army officer, was first voted into office in 1999 and was returned to power in an election in 2004.
Niger has experienced long periods of military rule since independence from France in 1960. It is one of the world's poorest countries, but Mr Tandja's supporters argue that his decade in power has brought a measure of economic stability. Under his tenure, work has begun on the world's second-biggest uranium mine, and energy deals have been signed with Chinese firms 

2.  Constitution crisis turned coup

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

18 February 2010

Small vendors abandoned their stalls as the typical lunch hour break opened with gunfire at the presidential palace shortly after 1pm local time in Niger’s capital, Niamey. Firing continued intermittently with the military blocking all roads leading to the palace. Government helicopters were circling the city and fired in the afternoon, according to residents. “I left my bookstore rather than risk getting hit by stray fire,” Ismaël Issaka told IRIN from his home in Niamey. He told IRIN he heard gunfire near the hospital after 3pm, which is across from a military base. A private clinic doctor in the capital, Amadou Boureima, told IRIN he had treated five patients with light gunshot wounds. Elsewhere in the country, traffic and markets continued uninterrupted.
Military music
Former government information minister, Mariama Gamatié, told IRIN that state television and radio were still active as of 3pm. “We hear gunshots still, but if there has been a coup attempt and someone has taken over, the first thing that happens in Africa is that news goes off the air.” Shortly before 6pm local time, military music replaced news broadcasts on national radio. Gamatié was the information minister at the time of the assassination of President Ibrahim Baré Mainassara in 1999 and is now a civil society member contesting President Tandja’s rule. “We are paying the price for President Tandja’s power grab…We cannot afford his ego. We are in the middle of a famine. No one wants to use that word here because of the controversy in 2005. It is not a hunger crisis as government operators may call it. It is a famine.”
Admissions of malnourished children to feeding centres were 60 percent higher in January than at the same time last year, according to the US early warning network, FEWSNET. The European Union, the largest bilateral donor supporting Niger government spending, has frozen its non-humanitarian aid until there is a return to “constitutional order” in Niger; the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has suspended Niger’s membership. Vice president of the opposition Democratic and Social Convention party (CDS).  

Constitutional context

A contested 4 August 2009 referendum changed the constitution to extend presidential terms indefinitely, allowing President Tandja to stay in power after his allotted step-down date of 22 December last year. The president assumed emergency powers after he dissolved parliament last May, followed by the constitutional court in June, which had twice ruled the referendum to be unconstitutional. A twice-postponed ECOWAS meeting to consider the constitutional impasse in Niger – among other regional crises – took place in Abuja, Nigeria on 16 February.
In that meeting, ECOWAS appointed Senegal’s President, Abdoulaye Wade, as mediator, who was to join former Nigerian President Abdusalami Abubakar and an African Union representative in negotiating the stand-off between President Tandja and the opposition. When asked how he felt about the recently revived negotiations with the government, opposition leader Labo told IRIN the opposition has made concessions and remains hopeful Niger can find a peaceful way out of crisis. “We welcome the mediators’ help and await the government’s counterproposals.”
Civil society member Gamatié was less optimistic President Tandja will cede any power. “I am opposed to using military force to unseat President Tandja and will continue fighting democratically no matter what happened at the palace today. But this coup attempt was inevitable. If you tighten a noose long enough, the choked will cut it loose.”

3. La crise constitutionnelle s’aggrave au Niger


[Cet article ne reflète pas nécessairement les vues des Nations Unies]

18 février 2010

Les vendeurs ambulants ont abandonné leur stand quand ils ont entendu, peu après 13 heures, des coups de feu en provenance du palais présidentiel de Niamey, la capitale du Niger. Les tirs ont continué de manière intermittente et l’armée a bloqué toutes les routes menant au palais. Des hélicoptères du gouvernement survolaient la ville et ont même ouvert le feu, selon des résidents. « J’ai préféré abandonner ma librairie plutôt que de risquer d’être touché par un tir perdu », a dit à IRIN Ismaël Issaka depuis sa maison, à Niamey. Il a ajouté qu’il avait entendu des coups de feu près de l’hôpital après 15 heures. Celui-ci est situé en face d’une base militaire.
Amadou Boureima, un médecin qui travaille dans une clinique privée de la capitale, a dit à IRIN qu’il a dû traiter cinq patients blessés par balle. Ailleurs dans le pays, la circulation et les échanges commerciaux n’ont pas été interrompus.

L’ancienne ministre de l’Information, Mariama Gamatié, a dit à IRIN que la télévision et la radio d’État étaient toujours en fonction à 15 heures. « Nous avons entendu d’autres coups de feu, mais s’il y a eu une tentative de coup d’État et que quelqu’un a pris le pouvoir, la première chose qui se produit ici en Afrique, c’est que les nouvelles ne sont plus diffusées ». Les bulletins de nouvelles ont été remplacés par de la musique militaire peu après 18 heures. Mme Gamatié était ministre de l’Information au moment de l’assassinat du président Ibrahim Baré Mainassara, en 1999, et se considère aujourd’hui comme un membre de la société civile qui s’oppose au gouvernement du président Tandja.
« Nous payons le prix de la prise de pouvoir du président Tandja…Nous ne pouvons pas nous permettre de satisfaire son ego. Nous sommes au beau milieu d’une famine. Personne ne nous autorise à utiliser ce mot ici à cause de la controverse de 2005. Ce n’est pas une crise alimentaire comme le disent les responsables du gouvernement : c’est une famine ». Le nombre d’admissions d’enfants atteints de malnutrition dans des centres de nutrition étaient 60 pour cent plus élevé en janvier de cette année qu’à pareille date l’an dernier, selon le Réseau américain des systèmes d’alerte précoce FEWSNET.
L’Union européenne, le plus important bailleur de fonds bilatéral du gouvernement nigérien, a gelé toutes ses aides non-humanitaires jusqu’à ce qu’il y ait un retour à « l’ordre constitutionnel » au Niger. Par ailleurs, la Communauté économique des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (CEDEAO) a suspendu le Niger [en octobre dernier]. 
Abdou Labo, vice-président du parti d’opposition Convention démocratique et sociale (CDS) et ministre jusqu’à ce qu’il dépasse, en 2007, le terme pour occuper un poste ministériel, a dit à IRIN qu’il ne ferait aucun commentaire sur les violences qui ont eu lieu au palais présidentiel. « Ce ne sont que des rumeurs. Rien n’a été confirmé pour le moment. Il ne sert à rien de faire des conjectures ».
Les journalistes d’IRIN n’ont pas réussi à joindre des membres du gouvernement ou du parti au pouvoir.
Négociations ?
Le 4 août 2009, un référendum contesté a permis de modifier la Constitution pour prolonger indéfiniment les mandats présidentiels, autorisant ainsi le président Tandja à demeurer au pouvoir après la fin de son mandat, prévue le 22 décembre 2009. Le président nigérien s’est octroyé des pouvoirs extraordinaires après avoir dissous le Parlement en mai dernier, puis la Cour constitutionnelle en juin. Celle-ci avait jugé, à deux reprises, que la tenue du référendum était contraire à la Constitution. Après avoir reporté à deux reprises la réunion, les membres de la CEDEAO se sont finalement rencontrés le 16 février à Abuja, au Nigéria, pour discuter de l’impasse constitutionnelle dans laquelle se trouve le Niger – ainsi que d’autres crises régionales.
Lors de cette réunion, le CEDEAO a nommé comme médiateur le président du Sénégal, Abdoulaye Wade. Celui-ci devait se joindre à l’ancien président nigérian, Abdusalami Abubakar, et à un représentant de l’Union africaine pour mener les négociations entre le président Tandja et l’opposition afin de sortir de l’impasse.  
Lorsqu’on lui a demandé comment il se sentait face aux négociations avec le gouvernement, récemment relancées, le chef de l’opposition, M. Labo, a répondu que l’opposition avait fait des concessions et qu’elle demeurait optimiste quant à la possibilité d’une sortie de crise pacifique. « Nous sommes heureux de bénéficier de l’aide des médiateurs, nous attendons les contre-propositions du gouvernement ».
Mme Gamatié doute quant à elle que le président Tandja ne cède quoi que ce soit.
« Je suis contre l’usage de la force militaire pour évincer le président Tandja. Peu importe ce qui s’est passé au palais aujourd’hui, je continuerai à me battre en utilisant des moyens démocratiques. Mais cette tentative de coup d’État était inévitable : quand on serre trop longtemps, celui qui s’étouffe finit par se déprendre ».

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