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Soldiers to Govern Niger Until New Constitution

Soldiers stand guard outside the office of Salou Djibo, leader of the coup that overthrew Niger's president Mamadou Tandja in Niamey, 21 Feb 2010

Niger's new military leaders say they will run the country until politicians agree on a new constitution. The army took power last week in a coup against President Mamadou Tandja.

Coup leaders told diplomats from the United Nations, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West African States that they will organize elections "as soon as possible" once politicians agree on a new constitution.

Ramtane Lamamra is the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security.

Lamamra says Niger's new military Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy gave regional diplomats "very clear assurances" about their willingness to work with all political parties and the international community to achieve common objectives.

Mohamed Ibn Chambas is the president of the Economic Community of West African States.

Chambas says military leaders say an inter-Nigerien dialogue will include all political parties, civil society groups, and trade unions to lead to a new constitution and credible and transparent elections.

Soldiers have suspended the constitution that President Tandja used to expand his power and give himself another three years in office. The president, prime minister, interior minister, and finance minister are still under house arrest, but soldiers say most government ministers will keep their jobs, for the time being.

There is cautious optimism that this military action may help resolve Niger's political impasse, in part, because several of the men involved in this coup played big parts in the country's 1999 coup. That military government lasted less than a year before organizing elections that were won by President Tandja.

Coup spokesman Colonel Djibril Hamidou Hima says the military's track record of moving quickly to democratic elections should reassure the international community.

Hima says regional diplomats leave Niamey reassured by what they have seen and heard from military and political leaders. He says the transition process that the military is proposing reassured them and the military believes those diplomats now trust Niger's new leadership.