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Francophonie Officials in Niger to Evaluate Transition Program

Officials from the international organization of French-speaking nations are in Niger to evaluate the military government's plans for elections to return to civilian rule.

Delegates from the International Francophonie Organization are in Niamey to follow up on the military government's promise to restore constitutional order following their February coup against President Mamadou Tandja .

Henri Lopes, who heads the Francophonie mission, says officials are in Niger to look at the path the country has taken and understand in what way authorities have been working to open a dialogue with civil society groups.  He says they are hoping to see a timetable for a transition to civilian rule, but there are many obstacles and hastily announcing or deciding on a way forward could be harmful.

Francophonie delegates met with military ruler Commandant Salou Djibo, who last week named a 131-member consultative council drawn from civil society groups, political parties, trade unions, and members of defense and security forces.  It is lead by opposition politician Marou Amadou and will consider changes to a constitution passed by President Tandja last year that expanded his powers and extended his rule.

Mr. Djibo says those changes may include the electoral code and the charter for political parties.  He says the consultative council will put in place an independent electoral commission and determine the length of a transition to civilian rule.

Lopes says there should not be too much delay in this transition, but it is up to the  consultative counsel to make its own suggestions for that timetable as it would be irresponsible for outsiders like the Francophonie to get involved in haggling over timing.

Lopes and his delegation met with former President Tandja who remains under house arrest.

Lopes says the former president is relaxed and in good health.  He made no particular demands of the delegation from the Francophonie and spends a lot of time reading.

Niger's military last week released 14 allies of the former president who were detained for questioning in connection with what soldiers say were subversive activities.  The military says there will be no impunity for crimes by the previous government, and former ministers now released will remain under constant surveillance.

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