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Anti-Corruption Advocates Hail Actions Against Niger's Former Prime Minister

Advocates of good governance in Africa and civil society activists in Niger say parliament's decision to open the way for a corruption trial against a former prime minister is a step in the right direction. The accused says he is the victim of political machinations to prevent him from running in the next presidential election. Naomi Schwarz has more from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

The 72-28 vote by Niger's parliament to lift the immunity of former prime minister Hama Amadou is being hailed by civil society activists.

The head of a leading Nigerien civil society organization, Issa Kassoum, says this is the first time Niger's government has taken on such a high-ranking official.

"It is the first time when our parliament take a decision to make democracy to make justice go over," he said. "So we think it is a good thing. And a very good example."

He says it shows no one is above the law.

Former prime minister Amadou has been accused of misusing more than $200,000 meant to help develop the local press. The parliamentary vote means Amadou can be brought to trial in Niger's High Court and if convicted put in jail.

Amadou denies wrongdoing. He says the charges against him are a campaign to block him from running for president in 2009.

Amadou had been considered a likely successor to his long-time ally, Niger President Mamadou Tandja. But the prime minister, who took office in 2000, was ousted last year by a parliamentary no-confidence vote, while under the cloud of a separate corruption scandal.

Ibrahima Kane, of London-based advocacy group, Open Society Foundation, says the charges against the former prime minister send a strong message that the rule of law will be respected in Niger.

He says this case shows Niger's government is leaping ahead of other West African countries in enforcing anti-corruption laws.

"Here, what you see is the parliament using its prerogative to do the job properly by trying to find out how the public fund was used by authorities in charge of the daily management of the country," said Kane.

The former prime minister has defended his use of the money, saying he was instructed by the president to use the funds to promote Niger's government activities in the media.

Kane says he hopes the truth will be uncovered during a fair trial. He says if the prime minister's allegations prove true, he says he hopes that justice will not stop there.

"Given that nobody is above the law, that any person involved in the misuse of the money should also be exposed, even if it is the president of the Republic," he said.

Niger's president won re-election for a second five-year term in 2004. The constitution bars him from running again.