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Soldiers Topple Niger's President

Soldiers stand guard by Niamey's national hospital, Niger, during a coup attempt against President Mamadou Tandja, 18 Feb 2010

Coup spokesman says action was taken to end the country's tense political situation following an August referendum expand President Tandja's powers and gave him another three years in office

Soldiers in Niger say they have toppled President Mamadou Tandja. VOA West Africa Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

In a nationwide radio and television broadcast, a spokesman for the mutinous soldiers said they have suspended the constitution and dissolved the government that President Tandja established following a controversial referendum last August.

Coup spokesman Colonel Abdoul Karim Goukoye Karimou said Niger's defense and security forces decided to take their responsibility to end the country's tense political situation.

He said Niger is now being led by a Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy which is calling on people to remain calm, stay united, and make their country an example of democracy, good governance, and stability.

President Tandja was meeting with cabinet ministers at the presidential palace when the coup took place. Soldiers are now reportedly holding him at a military barracks outside the capital.

President Tandja has grown increasingly unpopular since he used the August referendum to change the constitution to expand his powers and give him another three years in office.

When Niger's constitutional court and parliament said the referendum was illegal, President Tandja dismissed them. The Economic Community of West African States suspended Niger because of what it called President Tandja's unconstitutional rule.

The regional alliance has been trying to negotiate a transitional power-sharing agreement that would have allowed President Tandja to remain in office while an interim government organized new elections.

Announcing the coup, Colonel Karimou was joined by two men who played big parts in Niger's 1999 coup - Dijibrilla Hima Mamidou and Abdoulaye Adamou Harouna. That take-over lasted less than a year before the military held elections that were won by President Tandja.

Coup leaders have announced a 6 pm to 6 am curfew and have closed all land and air borders.