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Coup Leaders Say Army to Run Niger Until New Constitution, Elections Put in Place

The new military rulers of Niger have named a civilian prime minister to lead the country's transitional government until elections. The new PM, Mahamadou Danda, served as information minister in a transitional government that followed Niger's last coup in 1999, and has worked as an administrator since then.

Niger's coup leaders say they will retain power over the country's newly appointed prime minister until a new constitution is adopted and elections are held. But they set no date for the polls.

The military ousted President Mamadou Tandja last Thursday (February 18) in the midst of a political crisis that began last year.

"In an ideal situation, the military should stay in the barracks, civilians should rule," Howard University Political Science Professor Abdul Karim Bangura said. "But when a dictator is so powerful and controls all the means of violence and composure, what other alternative is there?"

Professor Bangura says Mr. Tandja committed many offenses, but one in particular. "This is also a man who suspended the constitution. The constitutional court ruled against his move and he decided to ignore the constitutional court and put the thing to a referendum in a very suspcious and very questionable way that we know was rigged," he stated.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson says no coup is a good coup, but democracy in Niger remains possible. "We encourage the military junta that is now in power to live up to what they stand for," Carson said. "If they are there to restore democracy, they should do it quickly and expeditiously."

African diplomats met in Niger's capital Niamey last Sunday (February 21) and expressed optimism coup leaders will return the nation to civilian rule. "They have assured us there will be an opening for everyone here in Niger, for an inter-Nigerien dialogue with all the political forces," Mohammed Ibn Chambas said. Chambas is the head of the Economic Community of West African States.

Niger is one the poorest countries in the world, even though it is rich in uranium deposits. It gained independence from France in the 1960s, but has been plagued by coups since then. Mr. Tandja won the first of his two terms in office in 1999 following a coup.

"We vigorously condemn the military coup of 18 February 2010, and hold responsible these actors as we risk to lose control and deteriorate the political, social and economical situation of our country," Seini Oumarou said. Oumarou is the head of Mr. Tandja's former ruling party.

But there is support in Niger for the coup leaders.

Howard University Professor Bangura says outside powers are partly to blame for Niger's problems. "As long as France, which is the major power in Niger, was getting its uranium because it's heavily dependant on the uranium, and, of course China for its nuclear plants -- they are all dependent on uranium -- they were in no hurry to slap the wrist of Tandja," Bangura said.

The coup in Niger follows recent politcal turmoil in other parts of West Africa -- in Guinea-Bissau and Conakry, Ivory Coast and Nigeria -- prompting fears for the whole region.