Niger junta says no members to run in vote

NIAMEY Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:19am IST

A soldier from the military junta stands outside a base in Niger's capital Niamey, February 22, 2010. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun

A soldier from the military junta stands outside a base in Niger's capital Niamey, February 22, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Emmanuel Braun

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NIAMEY (Reuters) - Members of Niger's military junta and a transitional government due to be set up will not be allowed to stand in promised elections, the ruling junta said on Wednesday.

The junta, which overthrew President Mamadou Tandja last week after he had ruled the uranium-exporting West African nation for more than a decade, also said its priorities were to clean up politics and restore democracy. But it was reluctant to give a timetable.

The junta, known as the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD) sought to ease fears the military would linger in power.

"We will not remain in power forever. No member of the Council or any transitional body will stand," junta spokesman Col. Abdulkarim Goukoye told reporters.

He said an election would be held but gave no date, saying it would not be a unilateral decision by the junta but agreed upon after talks between all tiers of Nigerien society.

The coup, the fourth since independence from France in 1960, was welcomed by Nigeriens tired of months of political bickering in a nation that is one of the world's poorest but attracts billions of dollars of investment in its oil and uranium.

Foreign governments have criticised the army takeover but diplomats privately say it has offered a breakthrough in a stalemate where international mediation failed to resolve a row over Tandja's extension of the constitution to stay in power.

"We are here to clean things up. That involves a lot of things," he said, citing corruption, improving administration and resolving legal issues.

"We are here to clean things up but we need to check the facts and do everything fairly and legally. Otherwise you will come back and say it is a witch-hunt."

The cases most often cited include dozens of investigations into corruption by politicians, senior civil servants and businessmen, accused of being involved in stealing public funds or abusing positions.

Many Nigeriens are keen to see the military pursue these cases though diplomats say this could lead to an open-ended transition.

INVESTORS REASSURED

The junta has named Mahamadou Danda as prime minister. Danda served as information minister in the transitional government that followed Niger's last coup in 1999, when the army ousted the president and organised elections soon afterwards.

Goukoye said Danda's government would be named soon and that junta members would also be visiting neighbouring Nigeria, Benin and Burkina Faso to explain the situation in the country.

French state-owned nuclear power firm Areva and China National Petroleum Corp, among other investors, are spending large amounts of money to develop resources in Niger.

"They are reassured ... to know that we are not here to stay (or) to come and do business," Goukoye said when asked about concerns investors had over the coup.

"We are here to resolve a problem and we are resolving it."

Analysts have said they believe there is no immediate threat to the large contracts in Niger, though prolonged political instability will be a likely cause for concern.

Frustrations about the political class have been deepened by months of bickering between Tandja and those opposed to his extended grip on power.

Tandja is being held in Niamey but Morocco has said it would offer him asylum, Goukoye said. He also told reporters six ministers, rather than three, as previously reported, were still being held.

(Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Angus MacSwan)

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