News / Africa

Former Ruling Party Condemns Niger Coup

Niger's former ruling party on Monday condemned last week's coup against President Mamadou Tandja.  The country's new military leaders say they will run the country until politicians agree on a new constitution.

With President Tandja and his prime minister still under house arrest, Niger's former ruling party says people should blame the country's new military leaders if the situation deteriorates further.

Seini Oumarou is president of the former ruling National Movement for Society and Development.

Oumarou says President Tandja's party vigorously condemns last Thursday's military coup.  He says he will hold the soldiers behind it responsible, if they lose control of the country and Niger's political, social and economic situation deteriorates.

Thousands of people took to the streets over the weekend to thank the military for toppling President Tandja.  He had grown increasingly unpopular since using a controversial referendum last August to expand his powers and give himself another three years in office.

The revised constitution has been suspended and President Tandja's cabinet has been dissolved.  But the coup leaders say that most government ministers will keep their jobs for the time being.

Major Salou Djibo, who led the revolt, is promising to establish a consultative council for decision-making.  The new Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy appears to have convinced regional diplomats that it is serious about returning to civilian rule, in part, because several of its key members were involved in Niger's 1999 coup.  That military take-over lasted less than a year before organizing elections that were won by President Tandja.

The Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, says the current coup leaders are promising to include all political parties, civil society groups and trade unions in a consultative process toward a new constitution, and credible and transparent elections.

In Washington, U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley says the military leaders will be judged by their actions.

"We do note the public assurances by the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy for a speedy return of civilian rule to Niger," said P.J. Crowley. "We support the efforts of ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations to promote Niger's speedy return to the rule of law.  And together, we will hold Niger to those public pledges."

An announcement on state radio late Monday said Major Djibo will serve as head of state with the power to appoint and dismiss ministers - including the prime minister.

The announcement said a "constitutional committee" and a new court will be established to replace the dissolved constitutional court and supreme court.  It said a separate body will be established to draft new electoral laws and prepare a new constitution to be voted on by the people of Niger.   

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