Niamey, the capital of Niger has been hit by a coup d’état. The President, Mamadou Tandja, and his Cabinet Ministers who were holding an extraordinary meeting at the time of the attack are believed to be held by soldiers within the confines of the presidential palace.
Gunshots were heard Thursday afternoon in Niamey, the capital of Niger. The commotion began around 13 hours local time. A journalist from Dounia TV reporting from the area has confirmed that the gunshots were heard coming from the presidential palace and military barracks.
According to the journalist, the perpetrators are suspected to be part of the military.
RFI has also announced that people were seen running helter skelter, with most people fleeing markets areas to seek shelter indoors. Some injured people have been taken to the city’s hospital.
Cabinet Ministers who were at the time of the attack holding an extraordinary meeting are believed to be held within the confines of the presidential palace by the military.
Talking to AFP, a French military officer is quoted as saying: “All I can say is that it would appear that Tandja is not in a good position”.
The BBC has quoted a government source as saying that “Soldiers captured Mr Tandja while he was chairing his weekly cabinet meeting”.
All military barracks in the city of Niamey have been visibly placed on high alert. Eye witness reports say tanks have been placed in front of strategic buildings.
The west African country’s radio broadcasts have also been disrupted.
Political tensions have been high since Mr. Mamadou Tandja decided to change the country’s constitution, to allow him run for a third term in office after ten years in power, although the constitution expressly banned him from doing so.
Mr. Mamadou Tandja dissolved the parliament in May 2009. A move that many deemed surprising as he had been a fervent critic of presidents who sought to manipulate constitutions to remain in power in the past.
Prior to his announcement, he was widely praised for overseeing a return to relative stability, although poverty, unemployment and a large foreign debt remain key challenges.
Political and civil groups in the country had warned of a return to dictatorship, and a rise in politically motivated arrests.
The government of the United States of America suspended a $20 million aid programme to the west African country in December 2009, while the regional alliance, ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African states) also suspended Niger from regional trade, following the changes to the country’s constitution.
Ecowas wanted a referendum on Mr. Tandja’s third term vote to be postponed in favor of dialogue. Mr. Tandja refused.
President Tandja first took office in 1999. He won a second and final term in the second round of presidential elections in December 2004. He had promised to quit in December 2009, a month after presidential elections were due to be held.