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March 28, 2010

Niger Military Arrests Former President's Aides

Niger's military rulers have arrested members of the former government for questioning over what they say are subversive activities. The country's former president remains under house arrest.

Interior Minister Ousmane Cisse says the men are being questioned about what he calls subversive activities meant to undermine the government and its ongoing transition process. Speaking to reporters Monday, Cisse would not discuss what those activities were. He says investigations are continuing and more arrests may be made.

Niger's military took power in a coup last month, toppling President Mamadou Tandja, who remains under house arrest. Soldiers have appointed a civilian prime minister and say they are committed to returning the country to democratic rule once there is a new constitution to replace laws President Tandja used to extend his rule.

The arrest of the former president's aides is the military's biggest move yet against supporters of the former ruling party. Those detained Sunday include former finance minister Ali Lamine Zene and former justice minister Garba Lompo as well as the heads of public companies responsible for water, electricity, and petroleum.

In a statement read on national radio and television Sunday, Cisse said every act or opinion that disturbs public tranquility will be punished, warning people against actions that run counter to the government's work to resolve political tensions.

Cisse said the ruling military council will not tolerate individuals who are determined to continue with speeches and writings that might return Niger to the political uncertainty that existed before the coup.

Former government spokesman Moctar Kassoum was detained for three days earlier this month after calling for fasting and prayers to press for Mr. Tandja's release. Kassoum was re-arrested Sunday along with his predecessor Mohamed Ben Omar.

Regional diplomats say they believe Niger's military rulers are serious about restoring constitutional order. They are urging the ruling Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy to hold elections as soon as possible.

Political parties in Niger are asking for a nine-month transition program to return to civilian rule. The military has already said that none of the members of its ruling council or the transitional government will be allowed to run in the next election.