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Niger Opposition Insists on Return to Constitutional Order before Talks

Niger Opposition Insists on Return to Constitutional Order before Talks
Niger Opposition Insists on Return to Constitutional Order before Talks
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Niger's opposition coalition has rejected direct talks with the government unless President Mamadou Tandja reverts to constitutional order. The group met in Abuja with former Nigerian military ruler Abdulsalami Abubakar, who is mediating a resolution to the crisis that has unfolded in Niger.

Opposition leaders along with union representatives and civil society leaders held talks with the ECOWAS-appointed mediator Abdulsalami Abubakar on Thursday and Friday. They made it clear to the former Nigerian military ruler that a return to constitutional order is a pre-condition for direct talks with President Mamadou Tandja. Former Prime Minister Aboubacar Cisse speaks for the 41-member Niger opposition delegation.

"The key demand is that we consider that the crisis has been prompted by the fact that the constitution has been violated. So the first thing which we are requesting is to come back to constitutional order. And from there other discussions could start. The return of constitutional order is the prerequisite for starting the dialogue between his [Tandja's] group and the opposition," he said.

On Monday, the ECOWAS mediator met with a Niger government delegation, also in Abuja as a prelude to a wider stakeholder forum on Niger at a later date.

West African leaders last month suspended Niger from the ECOWAS regional bloc in protest against what they said were flawed legislative elections held there. The European Union, Niger's main aid donor, is contemplating severing ties to pressure Niamey to restore constitutional order.

The United Nations, African Union, the United States and former colonial power France have all criticized President Tandja's move to tighten his grip on power. Analysts say this is a step backwards for democracy in Niger which could set a bad example for leaders in the rest of the West African region.

Cisse says the opposition welcomes the widening international pressure on President Tandja to resolve the crisis.

"We will like to use this opportunity to thank not only ECOWAS, but all the African countries, United Nations, United States, European Union and so on who have really taken a very strong stance and this is something we believe is really forceful in the direction which will help, hopefully, to come to normalcy in the situation," he said.

President Tandja has been in power for almost 10 years and was due to step down next month, but he defied local and international pressure to conduct a referendum, which opened the way for further terms in office.