Niger’s first democratically elected president was ousted in a military coup Saturday and an army colonel took over as head of state, charging the government was crippled by an “absurd crisis.”
Col. Barre Mainassara Ibrahim announced on state-run radio that President Mahamane Ousmane was under arrest at the presidential palace, the constitution was suspended and a temporary national council was in control of the government.
Referring to himself as the new head of state, Mainassara said Prime Minister Hama Amadou was also arrested and political parties were banned.
Mainassara, 45, said he seized control because a deadlock between the president and the opposition members of parliament had reached an “absurd crisis.”
He said a soldier and private presidential guard were killed when army soldiers surrounded the presidential palace and government headquarters.
There were no other reports of deaths. A dozen army soldiers were injured during the coup, according to government officials.
Gunfire was heard around the government headquarters late Saturday evening. People in the capital of this West African nation fled to their homes and when they turned on the radio discovered normal programming had been replaced by military music.
The U.S. government condemned the coup in a statement Saturday night. “The military forces responsible for this abhorrent deed have acted contrary” to the will of the people,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns.
All Americans contacted by the U.S. Embassy were safe, said Burns.
Because the coup was violent, he said U.S. law requires the government to suspend aid to Niger.
The former French colony has been in a political standoff since parliamentary elections in January 1995.
Ousmane’s attempts to create a government with the opposition, which won 42 of the 82 seats in the National Assembly, had failed.
Ousmane and Prime Minister Amadou had been at loggerheads for months, with the president once using his personal guards to block the prime minister and other Cabinet members from entering government headquarters.
Niger, on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, is one of the world’s least-developed countries. It is 495,000 square miles in size, slightly larger than Texas and California combined. It has a population of about 8.5 million; fewer than 20 percent of them are literate. The former French colony gained independence in 1960.