Attempted Coup Underway in Niger's Capital
By SOF Editor on Thu, 02/18/2010 - 11:53am
Witnesses reported heavy gunfire started about midday local time.
State radio played traditional music, and made no mention of the coup attempt. Soldiers and armored vehicles were seen near the palace and nearby streets were deserted.
Official sources in the capital Niamey tell VOA's Hausa Service that people have been taken to the hospital.
Government ministers were scheduled to gather at the palace for a meeting about that time. State radio has made no announcement on the events and is playing traditional music.
But private radio stations reported smoke rising from inside the compound and businesses closed in much of the area around the presidential palace.
Speaking to reporters in Ethiopia, African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra says the alliance is following closely what is going on in Niamey.
"We are always concerned whenever there is a report of a coup to be in the making or even the threat of a coup because this obviously is contrary to what we aspire for the continent to be: a continent free of unconstitutional changes of government. So we will be following closely the news," Lamamra said.
President Mamadou Tandja extended his time in office beyond his second five-year term which expired in December. His political opponents boycotted an August referendum that changed the constitution to give him another three years in power and removed term limits so the 71-year-old leader may run again after that if he wishes.
Niger's constitutional court and parliament said that referendum was illegal. President Tandja dismissed both bodies and replaced them with a new court and new assembly that support his new government.
Asked if the president's opponents might then have reason to move against him, African Union Commissioner Lamamra says all coups must be condemned with the same energy.
"There are no good or bad coup d'etat. All of them are bad," Lamamra said.
The Economic Community of West African States suspended Niger over what it says is unconstitutional political change. At its annual meeting in Abuja this week, ECOWAS refused to reinstate Niger until it resolves the political crisis.
Regional mediation by former Nigerian president Abdulsalami Abubakar has so far made little progress with the government rejecting any power sharing arrangement that refuses to recognize the creation of this new government under the new constitution. West African leaders are now expanding their negotiating team to include Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and a representative from the African Union.