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Regional Leaders Decry Political Crisis in Niger


An emergency summit of the West African regional bloc Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, is scheduled for September 5 in Abuja, to discuss recent political developments in Niger. Some regional leaders have criticized Niger's President Mamadou Tandja's move to extend his term in office.

The ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council said a four-member ministerial committee, comprising Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone, will travel to Niger in the next few days and report its findings to the September summit. ECOWAS President Mohammed Ibn Chambas read the Mediation and Security Council communiqué late Monday.

"To constructively engage all Nigerien stakeholders by setting up a four-member ad hoc Ministerial Committee led by Nigeria and comprising Benin, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone, to work with them, including the National Council for Political Dialogue, towards the restoration of dialogue and consensus which characterized the Nigerien political environment prior to the current crisis," said Chambas.

The regional bloc said President Mamadou Tandja's plan to prolong his tenure was a setback for democracy in the region. "Doing nothing could trigger a domino effect of unconstitutional maintenance of power across the region, thus threatening the progress made in the democratization process of the last two decades," the communiqué said.

President Tandja dissolved the constitutional court and replaced its members, dismissed parliament and arrested opposition figures amid a dispute over plans to modify the constitution to allow the president to serve more than two terms.

Under Niger's new constitution, the 71-year-old president, whose term was to end in December could stay in power for three years and thereafter have unlimited mandates. The opposition denounced what is said was a "coup d'etat" by President Tandja.

Nigeria, which holds the rotating chairmanship of the Economic Community of West African States, has sharply denounced the Tandja plan to extend his rule. Officials in Abuja say Niger's ties with ECOWAS, which President Tandja once headed, could suffer unless the crisis is resolved.

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