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President of Niger Addresses the Nation after Mutiny

The president of Niger, Mamadou Tandja, is urging mutinous soldiers to return to their barracks following a weeklong revolt triggered by the soldiers' demands for better pay. The Nigerien leader's remarks came Tuesday, a day after mutineers attacked three armories in the capital, Niamey.

It was the first time Niger's leader has addressed his country since the mutinies started nearly a week ago, in the eastern town of Diffa.

The mutineers took several local officials hostage in Diffa last Wednesday before releasing them on Sunday. The unrest reached the capital, Niamey, in the pre-dawn hours of Monday, when mutineers attacked three armories. Gunfire ensued for several hours before loyalist troops put down the mutiny.

In a broadcast Tuesday, President Mamadou Tandja called on mutinous soldiers to return to their posts without delay. The Nigerien leader said the government will launch an investigation into the mutinies, and vowed it will firmly punish those responsible for the unrest.

On Monday, Mr. Tandja issued a decree restricting journalists from commenting on matters that, according to the president, could imperil the military's efforts to put down and investigate the mutinies. The decree said journalists who hamper national defense efforts would be suspended from their jobs or imprisoned.

Members of the Nigerien media on Tuesday blasted the decree, calling it unconstitutional and undemocratic. Mamane Abou is the president of the Niger Association of Independent Editors.

He said, today, no member of the media can report anything other than what is said by officials who are authorized to speak on behalf of the president, the prime minister, or any other part of the government. Mr. Abou said that as members of the independent media, his group rejects the decree.

The journalists allege the President acted against the constitution by issuing the decree without first consulting the National Assembly and other members of government.

Residents of Niamey returned to their normal routines Tuesday, though many expressed fear that violence would continue. The presidential palace remained heavily guarded by soldiers and armored vehicles. It is not known how many people may have been wounded or killed in the violence of recent days.

Negotiations continued Tuesday between the government and the mutineers.

The recent violence was the most serious to occur in Niger since President Tandja came to power nearly three years ago. The country, one of the world's poorest nations, underwent a series of military coups and an armed rebellion during the 1990s.