Tags: Niger | junta | leader | power

Niger Junta Leader Widens Power Hold

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 10:58 AM

NIAMEY — The leader of last week's coup in Niger began exercising his powers as interim president Tuesday amid promises he will oversee the organisation of new elections in the west African nation.

Major Salou Djibo who leads the Supreme Council for Restoration of Democracy (CSRD) junta, was named the uranium exporter's new head of state and government in a decree read out on state radio late Monday.

The junta has given no timeframe for a handover to civilian rule but has pledged to hold consultations with the country's political parties during the unspecified transition period.

Niger'a main labour body on Tuesday it was important for the junta leader to respect the transition period that would lead to elections.

"The essential issue is that he respects the transition which will in the end lead to free elections to pave way for civil rule," Issoufou Sidibe, head of the Democratic Federation of Niger workers told AFP.

"Niger's problems are numerous, some are more urgent than others...understandably, it's not all about taking power but ensuring that the state functions properly, with the regular payment of salaries being among the priorities," said Sidibe.

The junta's actions will be watched with interest from France and China in particular, as Niger is a major supplier of uranium to nuclear power plants in both countries. France's nuclear giant Areva is the country's biggest private employer.

Areva is currently investing 1.2 billion euros in a new project to develop the world's second biggest uranium mine, at Imouraren, in northwestern Niger.

The interim president shall have powers to appoint or sack ministers, including the prime minister, by decree.

A so-called "constitutional committee" and a court will be set up to replace the constitutional court and the supreme Court, all dissolved in the aftermath of the February 18 coup.

New election laws and a draft constitution would be put before a referendum, it said.

Washington has led international calls for an early return to democracy since middle ranking officers blasted their way into the presidential compound on Thursday and seized President Mamadou Tandja and his government during a cabinet meeting.

The junta is likely to come under more pressure in the weeks ahead to name a date for elections.

Tandja and several key ministers are still being held, the military leadership said.

The 71-year-old former army colonel, who led Niger for a decade, sparked the crisis when he decided to extend his grip on power beyond the legal limit.

The move stirred anger at home and abroad. Niger was suspended from a regional grouping as the European Union, the main donor to the poverty-stricken country, suspended aid.

The military said it stepped in to end the impasse because dialogue between Tandja and his rivals had stalled.

Thousands of people have taken part in pro-junta marches in Niamey and other cities across the country since the takeover.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 10:58 AM
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