* Tandja dissolves constitutional court
* Appoints eight new pro-referendum ministers
* Radio station taken off air
(Releads with dissolution of court, adds army reaction)
By Abdoulaye Massalatchi
NIAMEY, June 29 Niger's president dissolved the
constitutional court on Monday, hours after he appointed eight
new ministers from parties that back his plan for a referendum
on extending his stay in office.
The court said this month that President Mamadou Tandja's
scheme was unlawful, but the president of the uranium-exporting
West African country has vowed to press ahead anyway.
Tandja was due to step down when his term ends later this
year, but he wants a referendum on Aug. 4 on whether he should
be able to lead Niger for at least three more years.
The referendum plan has raised concerns among regional
political bodies and Western donors, who fear it is a sign of
back-sliding on democracy. It has also brought protests by
unions and the opposition at home.
Niger's armed forces said on Monday they would remain
independent, after the anti-referendum coalition called upon
them at the weekend to disobey orders.
"The Nigerien armed forces will not serve partisan
interests," defence ministry spokesman Colonel Goukoye
Abdoulkarim said on state radio. "They ask the different actors
to exclude them from politics once and for all."
Tension rose when Tandja announced on Friday he would rule
by decree after Niger's highest court again told him the
referendum would be illegal.
The eight ministers who joined the 33-member cabinet on
Monday replace those from Tandja's former ally, the Democratic
and Social Convention party, which walked out of his government
last week in protest over the referendum.
The new ministers all belong to parties that back the vote.
In a sign of a tougher government stand, a private radio
station was taken off air on Monday after broadcasting an
opposition statement. Tandja's foes demand that he step down and
have called on security forces to disobey his orders.
The landlocked former French colony of 15 million people is
one of the world's poorest countries.
Tandja says he needs the time to introduce a fully
presidential system of government that will give the president
more power and end current blockages in governance.
He also says people want him to complete large
infrastructure projects, including a hydro-electric dam, an oil
refinery and a uranium mine that will make Niger the world's
second biggest producer of the nuclear fuel.
(Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Richard Meares)