Niger Arrests Officers Plotting Coup Ahead of 2016 Election

  • Senior military officials had worked on plan for weeks
  • Accused wanted to use air force to seize power: president

Niger arrested senior military officers planning to use the nation’s air force to topple the government ahead of February’s presidential election, President Mahamadou Issoufou said.

The officers had been plotting for weeks, Issoufou, 63, said Thursday in a speech broadcast on state television. The president is seeking re-election next year, with the first round of voting scheduled for Feb. 21. Niger is the world’s fourth-largest producer of uranium, the material used to fuel nuclear power plants, and pumps crude oil.

Mahamadou Issoufou

Photographer: Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty Images

“The government has thwarted an unfortunate attempt at destabilization,” Issoufou said. “The objective was to overthrow a democratically elected regime. They planned to use the firepower of air force assets.”

Authorities arrested opposition leader Hama Amadou last month when he returned to the country after more than a year in self-imposed exile in France. He had been prime minister twice and said in September he intends to vie in the presidential election.

‘Destabilization Plot’

“The arrests are almost certainly related to the February election,” Francois Conradie, a political analyst at Paarl, South Africa-based NKC African Economics, said in a research note on Friday. “Issoufou has been under pressure from the opposition and civil society to make changes to the voters’ roll; he may want to use the pretext of a destabilization plot to avoid making changes that could be to his disadvantage in the election.”

One of the poorest nations in Africa, Niger’s government has been struggling with slumping prices for commodities and a growing threat from Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Niger is part of a military coalition with Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon fighting Boko Haram, which has started attacking towns outside its base in Nigeria.

“This kind of political problem will tend to make space for Boko Haram, which has targeted a number of Nigerien villages in the south in the past months,” said Conradie. “We do not think an actual coup is very probable, and as of writing we expect the elections to go ahead and for Mr Issoufou to win a second term in disputed circumstances.”

Areva SA, the world’s largest builder of nuclear reactors, operates a uranium mine in Niger. Issoufou, who had previously served as prime minister in the 1990s, was elected president in 2011.

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