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Updated: February 19, 2010 15:53 IST

Niger junta names squadron chief as its leader

AP
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In this July 31, 2009 file photo Niger President Mamadou Tandja, speaks to journalists at the presidential residence in Niamey. AP.
In this July 31, 2009 file photo Niger President Mamadou Tandja, speaks to journalists at the presidential residence in Niamey. AP.

A junta that seized power in a coup in the West African nation of Niger named a squadron chief as its leader on Friday, hours after soldiers announced on state TV that their group was in charge of the uranium-rich country.

In a statement, the junta named itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy and said it was being led by Salou Djibo.

Armed soldiers stormed the presidential palace on Thursday, kidnapping the country’s strongman president. The whereabouts of President Mamadou Tandja, remained unknown on Friday.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Mr. Tandja may have invited his own fate by “trying to extend his mandate in office.”

Both the United States and ECOWAS have expressed our concerns about that, and obviously that may well have been an act on his behalf that precipitated this act today,” Mr. Crowley said on Thursday, while adding that the U.S. does not defend the violent takeover. ECOWAS is a regional bloc of 15 West African countries.

In their broadcast on state TV, the soldiers said the country is under a curfew and that all its borders have been sealed.

The African Union’s top executive, Jean Ping, condemned the coup and said on Friday that the AU “demands a quick return to constitutional order.”

Mr. Tandja first took power in democratic elections in 1999 that followed an era of coups and rebellions. But instead of stepping down as mandated by law on December 22, he triggered a political crisis by pushing through a new constitution in August that removed term limits and gave him greater powers.

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