<!-- IMAGE -->
Niger says the decision by West African leaders to suspend the country following Tuesday legislative elections shows that its neighbors do not understand the country's political situation. The regional alliance wanted that vote postponed in favor of dialogue to resolve a political crisis sparked by the August referendum extending the president's time in office.
Foreign Minister Aichatou Mindaoudou says the Economic Community of West African states should reconsider its decision to suspend Niger and reject results from Tuesday's legislative vote.
She told reporters in Niamey that ECOWAS has misunderstood the political situation.
This was a vote to replace lawmakers who President Mamadou Tandja dismissed when they said a referendum to extend his rule was unconstitutional.
Results could come by the end of the week. Voter turn-out was light. But with most opposition parties boycotting the election, President Tandja is sure to tighten his control - adding a new parliament to a newly-appointed constitutional court and the end of presidential term limits.
ECOWAS asked President Tandja to indefinitely suspend the vote. A spokesman for ECOWAS chairman Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua says the decision to go ahead was clearly a move "to further entrench the constitutional illegality" in Niger.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says the Obama administration is "deeply concerned by President Tandja's disregard for Niger's institutions of democratic governance." In a written statement, Gibbs says the United States urges President Tandja to resolve the political crisis through dialogue rather than what the White House calls "self-serving actions that continue to erode Niger's 10-year commitment to democracy and good governance."
Opposition politician Hassoumi Massaoudou says it is inconceivable and unacceptable that President Tandja is now establishing dictatorial, autocratic rule.
Massaoudou says the international community should apply pressure on Niger and sanction President Tandja like they are sanctioning Guinea's military ruler Captain Moussa Camara.
President Tandja's ruling party says the opposition boycott will have no affect on the credibility of the vote just as its protest of the referendum had no affect on changing the constitution.
Foreign Minister Mindaoudou says ECOWAS suspension of economic assistance will have no affect on trade between Niger and other countries of the West African alliance.