Niger Capital Calm After Coup

The head of the military junta that seized Tandja during Thursday’s gun battle called for calm and closed the uranium-producer’s borders. The work of government ministers and regional governors ousted in the coup was being done by their secretary generals.

After months of political wrangling over Tandja’s amending the constitution to extend his rule, which drew international sanctions and sparked demonstrations, there was a sense of relief and hope for change in the desert nation.

“Right now, I think we will be able to work normally without all the pressure from the street (demonstrations) and the private radio stations the politicians occupied,” said Adiza Abdoulaye, a teacher in the west of the dusty capital.

The junta, calling itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSDR), on Thursday captured Tandja and his ministers in a four-hour gunbattle, before suspending the constitution and dissolving all state bodies.

At least three people were killed in the fighting.

The president of the CSDR has been identified as Salou Djibo. Other leaders of the Thursday coup included Colonel Adamou Harouna, who military sources said commands the Nigerien standby force of regional bloc ECOWAS, and Colonel Djibril Hamidou, a Niamey-based soldier and former spokesman for the junta that perpetrated a coup in 1999.

The CSRD gave no indication of how long they intended to hold power but called on Nigeriens and the international community to support their actions.

ECOWAS, which has for months tried to broker a solution to the deadlock between Tandja and the opposition, has already said it would punish any unconstitutional power-grab.

However, diplomats have indicated that the coup may offer the nation a fresh start and open the door for elections.

And the soldiers, who said they had acted to end the tense political situation, appear to have won over many among an increasingly frustrated population.

“I hope the soldiers restore some order … clean up the political environment,” said taxi driver Moussa Issa.

“We need to start from scratch, without being compromised by the current political class which has been discredited over the last 20 years,” Issa added.