A consultative council appointed by Niger's military rulers says civilian government should be re-established by March of next year.

After more than one week of debate, Niger's 131-member Consultative Council called for the return of democratic rule by March 1, 2011.

Council President Marou Amadou now passes on that proposal to the military's ruling Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy, which toppled President Mamadou Tandja in a February coup.

Military rulers are likely to accept that proposal since they are represented on the consultative council and have already pledged to restore civilian rule within a year.

The council made no formal recommendation on the dates of presidential and parliamentary elections, but Amadou says a referendum on a new constitution should come sometime in October.

Maman Nassirou Garba, a member of the council's political commission, says it is not necessary to have a long transition to civilian rule. He says the council thinks it is essential that this happen in the shortest possible time to restore democracy and return to constitutional order.

Garba says the council will propose having a national independent electoral commission in place by May 5. There will then be a review of the voter lists and registration of voters living outside Niger.

Military ruler Major Salou Djibo last week established a committee to draw up a new constitution within 45 days and named an 11-member council to ensure the "transparency and sincerity" of the constitutional referendum and presidential and legislative elections.

Mr. Djibo has appointed a civilian prime minister and says no one in the transitional government or on the ruling military council will be eligible to run in the next election.

Regional diplomats believe he is serious about returning to democracy, in part, because many of the soldiers behind this coup were also involved in a 1999 coup that organized elections won by former President Tandja.

Garba says Niger has past experience with this process following the 1999 coup that also restored civilian rule within one year. He says restoring internal and external credibility means having a transition of no more than 12 months.

Niger's external credibility was badly damaged by President Tandja, who refused to step down at the end of his second five-year term last December. He organized a constitutional referendum to remove term limits and give himself another three years in office. When Niger's parliament and constitutional court said that was illegal, he dismissed both bodies and ruled by decree.

Since the February coup, the former president has been under house arrest in Niamey.