Niger president seized in military coup

Mutinous troops led by an army colonel captured Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja after a gun battle on Thursday, and said they were suspending the Constitution and dissolving all political institutions.

Tensions had been high in the West African uranium exporter since Tandja changed the Constitution to extend his rule last year, a move that drew widespread criticism at home and led to international sanctions.

“We, the security and defence forces, have decided to take responsibility for putting an end to the tense political situation that you are already aware of,” a spokesperson for the military junta, which called itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD), said in a statement on state television late on Thursday evening.

The statement made no mention of Tandja, but military sources said he had been seized along with several ministers.

They said soldiers led by Colonel Adamou Harouna had stormed the presidential palace in a four-hour gun battle in the heart of the capital, Niamey.

The new military rulers’ statement said they had closed the borders and imposed an overnight curfew.

They gave no indication of how long they intended to hold power but called on Nigeriens and the international community to support their actions. The West African economic body Ecowas said it would punish any unconstitutional power-grab.

During the day, plumes of smoke were seen rising from the palace amid heavy gunfire. Hospital sources said at least three soldiers were killed in the clashes. A Reuters witness saw five injured soldiers at a hospital.

Later a Niamey resident told Reuters: “Calm has returned and tanks have taken up positions close to the barracks, where Tandja and members of his government were rumoured to be held.”

The resident, who asked not to be named, said a soldier living next door had told her not to worry as there would be no more resistance since the entire army supported the coup.

Expansion of power
Harouna, previously thought to be a major, heads Niger’s Ecowas standby force. Analysts and local journalists played down the possibility of a counter-coup, saying Tandja’s presidential guard was divided and heavy weapons had been taken to barracks under the junta’s control.

Tandja drew criticism and sanctions after dissolving parliament and orchestrating a constitutional reform in 2009 that gave him added powers and extended his term beyond his second five-year mandate, which expired in December.

The reform removed most checks on his authority, abolished term limits, and gave him an initial three more years in power without an election. Tandja said he needed extra time to complete large-scale investment projects.

In Washington, State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley said the situation was “very fluid” in Niger and the United States was closely monitoring it.

“Clearly, we do not in any way, shape or form, you know, defend violence of this nature, but clearly we think this underscores that Niger needs to move ahead with the elections and the formation of a new government,” he said.

Ecowas, which has for months tried to broker a solution to the deadlock between Tandja and the opposition, suspended Niger after Tandja extended his term. The United States terminated trade benefits, while former colonial power France also criticised Tandja last year.

Despite the political turmoil, Niger has attracted billions of dollars in investment from major international firms seeking to tap its vast mineral resources, including French nuclear plant builder Areva and Canada’s Cameco.

Areva, which has been mining uranium in Niger for decades, is spending €1,2-billion on a new mine.

China National Petroleum Corp signed a $5-billion deal there in 2008 to pump oil within three years.

Tandja has faced a rebellion by northern Tuareg-led rebels. Analysts said they were unlikely to be involved in the coup. – Reuters

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Not a sweet deal, Mister

Mister Sweet workers say they will not risk their health, and the lives of others, to continue producing and packaging confectionaries

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Nehawu launches urgent court bid over protective gear for health...

The health workers’ union says the government has rebuffed its attempts to meet about mitigating risks to workers

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world