Niger vows to arrest exiled opposition leaders

This week, regional group Economic Community of West African states (ECOWAS), mediating the talks, said it no longer recognised Tandja’s authority. And on Wednesday, the United States (U.S.) suspended aid and announced it was imposing travel bans on senior officials.

Had Tandja honoured his term limits, he would have stepped down as president on Tuesday.

Minster of Justice Garba Lompo announced the arrest warrants would be activated for former President Mahamane Ousmane, former Prime Minister Hama Amadou and Mahamadou Issoufou, the leader of the main opposition party.

“From this day onwards all those people having warrants against them will be arrested if they come to Niger,” said Lompo.

The BBC reported that few people expect the crisis talks to go any further as the opposition wants to get rid of Tandja at all costs. And now that the government has struck back, there seems to be no compromise on the horizon.

Opposition groups have described the president’s move to stay in power in the uranium-rich nation as a coup.

But his supporters are saying he should remain as he has brought financial stability to one of the world’s poorest nations.

On Wednesday, Niger’s government expressed its anger over a decision by the regional body that it no longer recognised the country’s president.

ECOWAS said that as it did not condone the referendum that enabled Tandja to stay in power, his term had therefore expired on Tuesday.

But the communications minister said no other countries should try to impose their will on the people of Niger.

The West African trade grouping has already suspended Niger.

However, ECOWAS said it would continue to mediate in negotiations, which began this week between Niger’s government and opposition in an attempt to resolve the political deadlock.

“It is a pity that ECOWAS took such a stand,” Niger’s Communications Minister Moctar Kassoum said.

“Niger wants partners that respect our choice; and no country should inflict its ideas on our people who have chosen the voice of the referendum.”

The referendum was held in August, after Tandja dissolved parliament as it looked likely to block the vote.

He won a landslide victory. The new constitution allows him to extend his term for three more years without a vote and scraps term limits.

He had been due to stand down on Tuesday after serving two five-year terms.

On the ECOWAS’ action, Issaka Souare, a researcher at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies, told the BBC it was the first time an inter-governmental body had not recognised a sitting African head of state.

And he said it would be difficult for Tandja to ignore the regional body, given landlocked Niger’s reliance on its neighbours for trade.

“He cannot afford to be considered as a pariah,” he told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

“If you were to compare the situation now in Niger to the one in Zimbabwe, it is different – because while in Zimbabwe the sanctions came from afar, here it is on the doorstep and that is the big difference.”

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