/ 29 March 2010

Niger Junta arrests ex-ministers for alleged plot

Niger’s military junta has arrested a dozen close aides of former president Mamadou Tandja, including former ministers, for allegedly plotting against the new authorities, a minister said on Monday.

“I confirm the arrest of certain individuals because of their involvement in subversive activities and undermining of the government and the transition process under way in Niger,” transitional Interior Minister Ousmane Cisse told reporters.

The arrests, which include at least four former ministers, were on Sunday but the nature of the “subversive activities” was not specified.

Cisse said an investigation had been opened and more arrests could take place.

It was the first major round-up of Tandja loyalists since the February 18 coup that toppled the former strongman who ruled the west African country for a decade.

A police source told AFP that those arrested include former finance minister Ali Lamine Zene and the ex-minister of justice Garba Lompo.

Lamido Moumouni who was in the equipment ministry as well as Moctar Kassoum, ex-communication minister and chief government spokesman, along with his predecessor Mohamed Ben Omar, were also arrested.

Kassoum was, two weeks ago, held by police for three days after he called for fasting and prayers to press for the release of Tandja and his then interior minister Albada Abouba.

Two former members of Tandja’s ruling party National Movement for a Developing Society (MNSD) were also among those detained on Sunday.

Directors of public companies responsible for petroleum, electricity, water and mines management are also being held.

The arrested are being held at a police camp in the capital Niamey, the police source said.

The junta has vowed to restore democracy in the largely arid but uranium-rich country at the end of a transition period which has not been fixed.

“We cannot understand that people claim the right to undermine the government because they are simply annoyed that they have been excluded from the public affairs because of their irresponsible behavior,” said Cisse.

In a statement read out on public radio and public television on Sunday, Cisse warned “people whose actions are the antithesis of the ongoing work”.

“Every act, every opinion that disturbs public tranquillity, will from today be punished in accordance with laws and regulations of the republic,” Cisse said.

Without naming anyone, the minister referred to “individuals who are determined to continue with their speeches, their writings and behavioural excesses that plunged the country into the tense (pre-coup) situation”.

“The state now can not tolerate these practices to undermine the CSRD’s (junta’s) efforts to reconcile Nigeriens,” he said. –Sapa-AFP