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ECOWAS Set to Suspend Niger’s Membership

ECOWAS Set to Suspend Niger’s Membership

ECOWAS Set to Suspend Niger’s Membership

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is scheduled to issue a statement Tuesday, officially suspending Niger as a member.

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The move follows the refusal of President Mamadou Tandja to suspend parliamentary elections scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Over the weekend, a high powered ECOWAS delegation led by Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf held discussions with President Tandja.

But Niamey refused to stop the vote, claiming that plans were too far advanced to cancel the election. It is an argument the opposition dismisses as fallacious.

The ECOWAS political director Abdel Fatau Musah said that the sub-regional body is taking a forceful stance against President Tandja's government.

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"ECOWAS is already issuing an official statement suspending Niger … the extraordinary summit of ECOWAS of 17th October decided that ECOWAS was sending a delegation to Niger to persuade the authorities from holding this election that we believe is outside legality, controversial and would not lead to national consensus," Musah said.

He said Niger's president refused the regional body's attempts to suspend the election.

"President Tandja, in his own wisdom has rejected that offer to postpone those elections and as we speak, the elections are ongoing," he said.

Musah said ECOWAS aims to uphold its decision.

"The community of that summit said that if Tandja refuses to abide by the decisions of the extraordinary summit, then Niger immediately comes under sanctions," Musah said.

He said restoring Niger's membership could be considered in the future.

"ECOWAS never leaves the door shut on any member state in the region," said Musah.

He said the regional body is concerned about Niger's political crisis.

"The whole of the politics of Niger today is outside constitutional legality. That much is not under any dispute. For that matter, Niger is suspended from all activities of ECOWAS. Niger is not a member of ECOWAS until this illegality is reversed and then the 1999 constitution is restored. That is the minimum that ECOWAS is asking of President Tandja," Musah said.

He said ECOWAS is also seeking tough sanctions from the African Union.

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"ECOWAS is already transferring Niger's dossier to the African Union and consequently to the United Nations for further action," he said.

Musah said the European Union is also set to impose sanctions on Niger.

"Through our interaction with our partners, I understand that the European Union is already putting Niger under Article 96 of the Cotonou (Benin) accord, which already also puts Niger under EU sanctions until it meets certain democratic benchmarks," Musah said.

Without any last-minute hitch, voting in Niger will begin Tuesday as planned, despite an opposition boycott and international condemnation.

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