Niamey (Niger), Feb 19, The fate of Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja remained unclear Thursday after the presidential palace in the capital Niamey came under attack in a coup attempt.
President Mamadou Tandja last year rode roughshod over parliament and the constitutional court to extend his rule and allow himself a chance at another term, raising tensions in the uranium-rich nation.
Heavy gunfire was reported around the presidential palace, which then tailed off to sporadic shooting mid-afternoon. Smoke was seen rising from the palace.
The Niger embassy in London issued a statement saying a coup attempt had taken place but that Tandja was unharmed.
“Reports reaching us suggest that both the president and the cabinet ministers who were with him at the time are safe and well,” the embassy said.
However, a government source told the BBC that Tandja and his cabinet had been captured by soldiers during a cabinet meeting.
West African regional group ECOWAS suspended Niger after Tandja extended his term, while the European Union and the United States also imposed sanctions.
ECOWAS chairman, Nigeria’s acting President Goodluck Jonathan, said in a statement the group condemned “all acts of ascension to power and remaining in power by unconstitutional means.”
The bloc has been mediating talks between the opposition and the government, but has made little headway.
Several international companies have uranium mining operations in the huge West African nation.
Tandja argued that he had to extend his term to oversee mining and energy deals he claimed would pull the former French colony out of poverty.