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ECOWAS Backs Court Ruling Demanding Release of Ousted Niger Leader

The head of the military junta, General Salou Djibo, casts his ballot in Niamey as Niger voted today in a constitutional referendum, 31 Oct 2010

A top official of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has called on Niger’s military junta to respect a decision of a sub-regional court ordering the country’s leaders to release ousted President Mamadou Tandja.

Former President Tandja has been under house arrest since his overthrow by the military junta in February.

Sonny Ugoh, communications director for ECOWAS, told VOA Monday’s ruling shows the independence of the sub-regional court.

“The court is one of our new institutions and this kind of judgment has to build confidence in the court. I think it is a happy day for institutions in West Africa and we are excited by it.”

The regional bloc’s court of justice ruled that Mr. Tandja's rights had been violated, and it ordered him freed. It did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, Niger’s government spokesman, Laouali Dan Dah, told VOA the government is yet to officially receive any information about the court’s ruling.

Ugoh said the regional bloc has always expressed concern about the well-being of Niger’s former leader.

“We always encourage member states to respect the rulings and judgments of the court because that way we can help to engender confidence in the court. I think it’s important for the government of Niger to look at it against that background and see how they comply with the judgment of the court because this is our court.”

Niger's military toppled Mr. Tandja in February, six months after he forced through constitutional changes to extend his term and expand his powers.

The coup leaders promised to hold elections and return the country to civilian rule by next April.

Last week, voters in Niger endorsed a new constitution that reverses Mr. Tandja's changes and clears the way for new elections.

It also guarantees immunity for the leaders of February's coup and commits them to handing over power next year.