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Niger Opposition Demands Release of All Activists

Niger's opposition is demanding the release of all imprisoned political activists ahead of the trial of an opponent of the new constitution scheduled for Friday.

Marou Amadou was arrested by Niger's secrete service shortly after he was released by a judge.

He is accused of disturbing public peace after he called on Nigeriens to resist controversial constitutional amendment extending President Mamadou Tandja's rule for three additional years.

The move has generated both local and international condemnation.

So far, the government has released a number of opposition activists, but kept in jail those it describes as undermining the country's peace.

Abdullahi Jauri, a legislator in Niger's dissolved parliament said that President Tandja has turned into a dictator.

"We are demanding the release of all the political prisoners because really we have to fight for the law and regulation in our country because now it is becoming a jungle where there is no regulation," Jauri said.

He said the government uses imprisonment to clamp down on dissent.

"We are facing a very big problem. When you tell your opinion you are locked up. When you go for a rally you are locked up. There are (political) prisoners all over the country… (There) were around 150 prisoners now after releasing some of them we are around 56 remaining in prison," he said.

Jauri said the opposition will show support during the trial of the human rights activist despite government's objection.

"As soon as we have the confirmation, people will gather there at the court area to give the support. Although the hearing is normally in public… they will put soldiers and they will block the place. But still within 15 minutes, with text messages and everything people will gather there," Jauri said.

President Mamadou Tandja was scheduled to step down later in December, but he has refused to leave power, claiming that the people want him to remain in office.

Meanwhile at a recent meeting in neighboring Nigeria, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) demanded Niger return to democracy.

So far, ECOWAS has been engaged in efforts to get Tandja's government to abide by Niger's constitution and the sub-regional body's Additional Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.

But Jauri said despite the threat of sanctions, embattled President Mamadou Tandja will refuse to meet the demands of the West African regional body.