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Niger's Military Junta Confirms Thwarted Coup Attempt

  • Drew Hinshaw

Niger's number two junta leader Colonel Abdoulaye Baide during ceremonies for the 50th anniversary of the country's independence in Niamey, 03 Aug 2010

Niger's number two junta leader Colonel Abdoulaye Baide during ceremonies for the 50th anniversary of the country's independence in Niamey, 03 Aug 2010

Niger's military government has confirmed it thwarted a coup attempt and detained four top military leaders. The news is a sign of growing tension within the country's transitional government.

It's been a full week since security agents arrested the Nigerien colonel who was once the number two man in the nation's transitional military junta.

That arrest, as well as the additional ones that followed, sparked rumors of an an attempted coup that the West African country's military leaders confirmed at a press statement in the capital.

Junta spokesman Colonel Abdoul Karim Goukoye Karimou told reporters that the army has taken four senior officers into custody, and is charging them with trying to overthrow the state.

The situation is under control, he says. Investigations abiding by the rules of military justice are going ahead to determine the implications of this affair, he says.

Karimou's statement confirms talk of a long-running split in the military junta, which took power in February after then-President Mamadou Tandja revised the constitution to give himself an additional three years in power.

Since taking power, the military has organized what it says will be a transition to democracy, starting with a constitutional referendum on, among other things, the scope of presidential power. But Colonel Karimou said the four arrested leaders opposed that referendum.

Their design was to undo all the commitments made by the transitional government and to confiscate state power for their own profit, even as we are counting the days until our constitutional referendum. That referendum, he says, will immediately mark the beginning of a process that will, within five months, return our country to a reign of democracy and human rights.

Voting for that referendum was scheduled to begin on October 31, and would be followed by a series of local and national elections on January 31. By April, according to the military timeline, the West Africa country is supposed to have a newly-elected president after years of aborted democracies and military intervention.

But funding for the election has been slow to reach the country's electoral authorities, and there have been delays in providing voting materials.

This latest threat to the vote, Colonel Karimou said, should not be allowed to further interfere with Niger's transition.

What our country needs most right now is the restoration of democracy, reconciliation among Nigeriens, and complete cleansing of our economy and our financial situation, he says.

The four detained leaders are being held by gendarmes in the capital Niamey. On Thursday, the military junta also fired the chief of its secret service for reasons that have yet to be explained.

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