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February 20, 2010

Regional Diplomats in Niger Following Coup

by Scott Stearns

Regional diplomats are in Niger to meet with the country's new military leaders following Thursday's coup against President Mamadou Tandja.

Diplomats from the United Nations, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West African States are in Niamey for meetings with Niger's new military rulers and political leaders on how best to return to constitutional rule.

The army took power Thursday in a coup against President Tandja, who had grown increasingly unpopular since expanding his power and giving himself another three years in office through a controversial referendum last August.

Military leaders say they will hold elections but have not yet set a date. Coup leader Squadron Chief Salou Djibo is promising to set up a consultative council for decision-making.

Soldiers have suspended the constitution that President Tandja used to extend his rule. But they say most of his ministers will stay in office for the time being.

Thousands of people rallied in the capital Saturday to support the military take-over. Captain Djibril Adamou Harouna told crowds outside parliament that the new Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy would not let the country down.

Captain Harouna says military leaders are asking people to stay calm, that soldiers are going to listen to them. He guaranteed that the army will never deceive the people of Niger.

He is one of several people who took part in the country's 1999 coup. That take-over lasted less than a year before the military organized elections that were won by President Tandja.

While the international community condemned the coup and the African Union suspended Niger, there is cautious optimism that this military action may help end Niger's political impasse.

President Tandja had little incentive to compromise with regional mediators, having already replaced judges and lawmakers who opposed him.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the military should move swiftly toward elections that include all segments of society. Former colonial power France wants elections "in the coming months." The United States is calling for a "speedy return to democracy."