us calls for return to civilian rule in Niger

NIAMEY - The United States yesterday stepped up calls for a peaceful and early transition from military to civilian rule in uranium-rich Niger, where a military coup has overthrownPresident Mamadou Tandja.

NIAMEY - The United States yesterday stepped up calls for a peaceful and early transition from military to civilian rule in uranium-rich Niger, where a military coup has overthrownPresident Mamadou Tandja.

The appeal came after the junta promised to hand over power to civilian rulers and return the West African state to democracy as soon as politicians agreed on a new constitution and hold elections.

"The United States continues to support the hopes of the Niger people to see constitutional order re-established and a peaceful transition leading to prompt, fair and transparent elections," the US embassy in Niamey said in a statement.

Washington had already called on Friday for a speedy return to democracy. Non-governmental organisations yesterday echoed the appeal.

"We call on the military to keep their promise to restore democracy as soon as possible," said FUSAD, an umbrella organisation of local NGOs.

The junta gave an international delegation "necessary guarantees" that the country would be returned to constitutional democracy through dialogue among all political parties and the civil society movement culminating in elections.

But the military rulers provided no time-frame in their talks with the UN and African envoys in Niamey on Sunday. Niger, which had enjoyed a decade of rare stability in the troubled West African region, was thrown into political turmoil last year when Tandja decided to extend his grip on power beyond the 10-year-limit.

The move stirred anger at home and abroad. Niger was suspended from a regional grouping as the European Union, the main donor to the impoverished country, suspended aid.

The military said it stepped in to break the impasse as it became apparent political dialogue between Tandja and his rivals had stalled.

Ecowas chairperson Mohamed Ibn Chambas said UN and African envoys who visited Niamey at the weekend discussed with members of the junta how the country could get back to "normal constitutional life as quickly as possible. They have given us the necessary guarantees and all this will be done with the participation of civil society and the political parties", said the head of the 15-member Ecowas.

The junta has promised a transparent process and that at the end of "free and fair elections power will be handed to a democratically elected government, as was done in 1999", said Colonel Djibrilla Hamidou Hima, one of the country's top military leaders. - Sapa-AFP

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