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Saturday, November 6, 2010

"Coup attempt" foiled in Niger

The junta in Niger, which is leading a democratic transition in the country, confirms that the four top officers arrested last week had plotted a coup. New unrest in the junta leadership may jeopardise the upcoming elections.

Concerning news about internal conflicts with the malitary junta ruling Niger have increasingly leaked from the Sahelian country lately, raising the question whether its progressive leader, transitional President Salou Djibo, would be able to go through with the ambitious democratisation process.

Last week, four senior officers suddenly were fired from the junta and arrested. Yesterday, its Secret Service leader Seyni Chekaraou, one of President Djibo's top confidentials, was fired. Further purges seemed imminent.

Today, the Nigerien junta reveals that the arrests had their background in a coup plot that was to remove President Djibou and halt the democratic transition process.

Colonel Goukoye Abdoulkarim, the junta's press spokesman, said that it was "known for a long time" that "some officers of the National Armed Forces, have always opposed a return of our country to a democratic and constitutional order."

These elements, Colonel Abdoulkarim explained, had rejected any attempts to convince them of the democratic transition process, and rather started to plot against the junta leadership, "including an assault on the life of the President."

The plotting army officers had however been infiltrated and monitored constantly, the spokesman said. At no situation had there been any real dangers of a coup to succeed.

"The Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy assures our compatriots and all our development partners that the situation is under control and that the restoration of democracy in our country will not be halted by any negative or personal ambitions," Colonel Abdoulkarim assured.

The ruling junta had no plans at all to use the situation to delay or even call off the transition timetable. The referendum over a new constitution on 31 October and the elections for a new President and parliament - in January, if the new constitution is approved of - would follow the agreed timetable, the spokesman emphasised.

Indeed, reports from Niamey indicate that the capital is living a normal life without any tensions, with the exception of the election campaigns that started yesterday, according to schedule.

The unrest within the Nigerien military junta nevertheless has caused many analysts to ask how deeply rooted the democratisation process really is within the national army. And will all military officers respect the outcome of the January elections, when President Djibo steps down?

The current military leader, who stands by his announcement not to remain politically active after the elections, may be forced to stand behind the to-be-elected government as a guarantor if it turns out that a great portion of the armed forces oppose the election result.

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