….As Mamadou Tandja is â€˜held by soldiersâ€™
By Lawani Mikairu & Daniel Idonor with agency report
There is indication in Niger that there is a coupÂ asÂ President Mamadou Tandja and his cabinet are being held by soldiers after gun battles in the capital. And in a swift reaction,the Chairman of the Economic Communities of West Africa, ECOWAS, and Nigeria Acting President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan said he received with deep concern report of shooting around the presidency in Niamey, Republic of Niger.
Political tensions have been growing in the West African nation since Mr Tandja changed the constitution last year to allow him to stand for a third term.
A government source told the BBC. that gunfire broke out around the presidential palace at about 1300 (1200 GMT) and continued for 30 minutes. BBCâ€™s Idy Baraou in Niamey says tanks are on the streets and witnesses report seeing injured people being taken to hospital.
An unnamed senior French official told AFP a coup attempt was under way.
â€œAll I can say is that it would appear that Tandja is not in a good position,â€ he told the news agency on condition of anonymity. Soldiers captured Mr Tandja while he was chairing his weekly cabinet meeting, the government source said.
The official further said â€˜â€™ The exchange of gunfire has been between soldiers but it is confusing and one cannot tell one side from another. I saw tanks being fired and soldiers on the streets using machine guns. The area near the presidential palace is where the business of government takes place and at least four military barracks are based there. People have fled the area and some civil servants have locked themselves inside their offices.Earlier, smoke could be seen from the roof of the office where President Mamadou Tandja was holding his cabinet meeting.â€™â€˜
But Reuters news agency spoke to other people inside the palace who said things were â€œall right. We can hear gunshots from time to time but… the president is in his office,â€ a security source told Reuters by telephone. Report says sporadic shooting can still be heard.
A witness told AFP that the bodies of three soldiers had been taken to a military mortuary.
But the situation in Niamey remains unclear, with radio stations continuing their programmes as normal and apparently there has been no large-scale deployment of military personnel.
The government and opposition have been holding on-off talks â€” mediated by the regional bodyÂ ECOWAS, to try to resolve the countryâ€™s political crisis.
It will be recalled that PresidentÂ Tandja, a former army officer, was first voted into office in 1999 and was returned to power in an election in 2004.
Niger has experienced long periods of military rule since independence from France in 1960.
Nigeria expresses concern
.In a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the Acting President on Media and Publicity, Mr Ima Niboro, Jonathan declared his express condemnation for all acts of accession to power or remaining in power by unconstitutional means.
According to the statement, â€œHis Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCON, Chairman of ECOWAS and Acting President of Federal Republic of Nigeria has expressed deep concern about the reports of shooting around the Presidency in Niamey, Republic of Niger.
â€œThe Chairman of ECOWAS, once again, condemns all acts of accession to power or remaining in power by unconstitutional means.Â He calls on all Nigerien stakeholders, including the Security Forces, to accept to resolve the constitutional crisis through dialogue and negotiations.
â€œThe Chairman of ECOWAS has reiterated the call of the February 16, 2010 Summit of ECOWAS Head of State and Government to continue to facilitate the mediation effort of Nigeria in close collaboration with African Union.
â€œTo that effect, the Chairman of ECOWAS is in consultation with the Chairman, AU Mediation Committee, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, and General Abdusalami Abubakar, the ECOWAS mediator, withÂ a view to the speedy resumption of the Inter-Nigerien Dialogueâ€, the statement said.