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Niger’s First Democratically Elected President Is Ousted

From Associated Press

Niger’s first democratically elected president was ousted in a military coup Saturday, and an army colonel took over as head of state, charging that the government was crippled by an “absurd crisis.”

Col. Ibrahim Barre Mainassara announced on state-run radio that President Mahamane Ousmane was under arrest at the presidential palace, the constitution was suspended and a temporary national council was in control of the government.

Referring to himself as the new head of state, Mainassara said Prime Minister Hama Amadou was also arrested, and political parties were banned.

Mainassara, 45, said he seized control because a deadlock between the president and the opposition members of parliament had reached an “absurd crisis.”

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He said a soldier and a private presidential guard were killed when army soldiers surrounded the presidential palace and government headquarters.

There were no other reports of deaths. A dozen army soldiers were injured during the coup, according to government officials.

Gunfire was heard around the government headquarters late Saturday evening.

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People in the capital of this West African nation fled to their homes, and when they turned on the radio, they discovered that normal programming had been replaced by military music.

Telephone calls to the capital did not go through, and France Telecom said phone links to the city had been dead since midday.

The U.S. government condemned the coup in a statement Saturday night.

“The military forces responsible for this abhorrent deed have acted contrary to the will of the people,” U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said.

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Foreigners did not appear to be targeted in the coup, and all Americans contacted by the U.S. Embassy were safe, Burns said.

Because the coup was violent, Burns said, U.S. law requires that the government now suspend aid to Niger.

The former French colony has been in a political standoff since parliamentary elections in January 1995.

Ousmane’s attempts to create a government with the opposition, which won 42 of the 82 seats in the National Assembly, had failed.

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Ousmane and Amadou had been at loggerheads for months, with the president once using his personal guards to block the prime minister and other Cabinet members from entering government headquarters.

Niger, on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, is one of the world’s least-developed countries.

The coup was the second in West Africa in 10 days. On Jan. 17, the military ruler of Sierra Leone was ousted by army officers six weeks before he planned elections to return the country to civilian rule.


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