Page last updated at 15:25 GMT, Saturday, 20 February 2010

Thousands rally in support of Niger coup

People demonstrate in Niamey (20/02/2010)
People in the capital seem to be overwhelmingly behind the coup

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of the Niger capital in a second day of demonstrations of support for Thursday's military takeover.

Opposition politicians and coup leaders addressed a rally celebrating the overthrow of President Mamadou Tandja and the dissolution of his government.

Niger has been suspended by the African Union, and the international community has been quick to condemn the coup.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also condemned it and called for calm.

The new ruling military council - the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy - has announced the lifting of a curfew declared hours after the coup and the re-opening of borders.

Ten people are said to have died when the junta seized power.

The coup follows growing discontent with Mr Tandja following a controversial referendum last August to abolish limits on presidential terms of office, observers say.

'Best interest'

A crowd put at 10,000 turned out on Saturday, with some people carrying signs in support of democracy and the army. Military leaders stood on top of trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns.

Chronic poverty
Population 14 million, 61% live on less than $1 a day
Resource rich
Huge reserves of uranium, Chinese firms digging for oil
Politically unstable
History of coups, assassinations and on-off rebellion by nomadic Tuareg people in the north

Source: World Bank

"We say thank you to the junta for their intervention," an opposition spokesman, Bazoum Mohamed, told the rally.

"We are for the restoration of democracy and we are committed to joining the army in this mission."

A military leader, Harouna Djibrilla Adamou, told the crowds: "We thank you for your overwhelming support."

"What we did was in the best interest of Niger. We ask you to stay calm, we're here for you, we're listening and we assure you that we will never let you down," he said.

An opposition coalition formed last year to protest against Mr Tandja's constitutional changes has written to the new military leadership, calling for a new constitution and for free and transparent elections to be organised.

However, Niger's new rulers have so far not mentioned a return to civilian rule.

'Safe and well'

Troops stormed the presidential palace during a cabinet meeting on Thursday afternoon, seizing Mr Tandja and his ministers before announcing that they were suspending the constitution and dissolving all state institutions.

Col Goukoye Abdul Karimou read a statement signed by Col Salou Djibo

Niger's new leaders have promised to turn the country into an example of "democracy and good governance" and save its people from "poverty, deception and corruption".

A senior army officer, Col Salou Djibo, was named head of a military government.

Mr Tandja, a 71-year-old former army officer, was first elected in 1999 and was returned to power in an election in 2004.

His second term in office expired in December, but was extended to allow him to complete major investment projects.

A junta spokesman, Col Goukoye Abdul Karimou, told the BBC on Friday that the president was "safe and well".

Niger has experienced long periods of military rule since independence from France in 1960.

It is one of the world's poorest countries, but Mr Tandja's supporters argue that his decade in power has brought a measure of economic stability.

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