Niger police hold opposition leader

Niger police on Monday arrested an opposition leader who had attacked the president’s plans to extend his stay in office as the European Union and France stepped up criticism of planned constitutional reforms.

Marou Amadou, leader of the United Front for the Protection of Democracy (Fusad), was taken in by police after being accused of breaching state security, his colleague Ali Idrissa told Agence France-Presse.

He was taken to a prison in the capital Niamey and told that his case will be heard on Tuesday, Idrissa said.

The arrest came several days after President Mamadou Tandja won a vote on introducing a new Constitution, which would potentially allow him to rule for life, according to results from the country’s electoral commission.

Amadou’s party Fusad rejected the result in a statement at the weekend and called for a “general mobilisation” to topple the president.

Niger voted on Tuesday in the referendum, which faced fierce criticism both in the uranium-rich west African country and abroad.

Amadou was “arrested by plainclothes policemen near his house as he came out of a mosque where he had gone to say his morning prayers”, Idrissa said.

The politician, also spokesperson for the Front for the Defence of Democracy (FDD), a coalition of parties opposed to the president’s plans, was detained for several days last month after the group called on the army to join protests against the referendum.

A Dakar-based African human rights group, RADDHO, on Monday expressed its “deep concern” over the arrest of Amadou.

“It amounts to neutralising one of Niger and west Africa’s most dynamic group leaders in a bid to weaken resistance against Mamadou Tandja’s constitutional blow,” the group said in a statement.

Tandja, meanwhile, faced more calls from abroad to return to the democratic path amid warnings his ties with foreign powers could suffer.

The EU said Niger’s links to the 27-member bloc could come under strain unless the president returned the nation to “democratic norms”.

“I regret that the recent holding of a referendum in Niger was outside the country’s constitutional norms,” said EU Development Commissioner Karel De Gucht.

“A rapid return by President Tandja to those constitutional norms would mean we don’t have to open negotiations between the European Union and Niger ... and put our cooperation in danger,” he added.

Former colonial power France urged Tandja to return Niger to a “democratic framework”.

“We call on President Tandja to renew dialogue with all political players and make the necessary commitments so that Niger quickly returns to a constitutional and democratic framework,” a French foreign ministry spokesperson said.

The electoral commission said on Friday the referendum had been approved by a vote of 92,5% in favour, but this was disputed by the opposition.

The new Constitution allows veteran soldier Tandja, in power since 1999, to remain in power for three more years beyond the December 22 end of his current mandate, and then to run for power in subsequent elections.

Under the new Constitution, legislative elections are expected to be held between now and the end of October.—Sapa-AFP


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