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Uranium-Rich Niger Undergoing Coup
While this leader is no model of democracy, any country with energy or other valuable resources seem to be very unstable, these days....

Niger leader Mamadou Tandja 'held by soldiers'

President Tandja was first voted into office in 1999

Niger President Mamadou Tandja and his cabinet are being held by soldiers after gun battles in the capital, a government source has told the BBC.

Gunfire broke out around the presidential palace at about 1300 (1200 GMT) and continued for 30 minutes, says the BBC's Idy Baraou in Niamey.

State radio is reported to be playing military music - a similar pattern to two coups in the 1990s.

Tensions have been growing in the uranium-rich nation since last year.

Mr Tandja was widely criticised when he changed the constitution in August to allow him to stand for a third term.

Long-term tensions

Our correspondent says tanks have been firing and witnesses report seeing injured people being taken to hospital.

An unnamed French official told AFP that a coup attempt was under way.

"All I can say is that it would appear that Tandja is not in a good position," he told the news agency on condition of anonymity.

Idy Baraou
BBC News, Niamey

The exchange of gunfire has been between soldiers but it is confusing and one cannot tell one side from another. I saw tanks being fired and soldiers on the streets using machine guns.

The area near the presidential palace is where the business of government takes place and at least four military barracks are based there.

People have fled the area and some civil servants have locked themselves inside their offices.

Earlier, smoke could be seen from the roof of the office where President Mamadou Tandja was holding his cabinet meeting.

Soldiers captured Mr Tandja while he was chairing his weekly cabinet meeting, the government source said.

But Reuters news agency spoke to other people inside the palace who said things were "all right".

"We can hear gunshots from time to time but... the president is in his office," a security source told Reuters by telephone.

Our correspondent says sporadic shooting can still be heard.

A witness told AFP that the bodies of three soldiers had been taken to a military mortuary.

But the situation in Niamey remains unclear - there has apparently been no large-scale deployment of military personnel.

The government and opposition have been holding on-off talks since December - mediated by the regional body Ecowas - to try to resolve the country's political crisis.

Mr Tandja, a former army officer, was first voted into office in 1999 and was returned to power in an election in 2004.

Niger has experienced long periods of military rule since independence from France in 1960.

It is one of the world's poorest countries, but Mr Tandja's supporters argue that his decade in power has brought a measure of economic stability.

Under his tenure, work has begun on the world's second-biggest uranium mine, and energy deals have been signed with Chinese firms.
The president of Niger was apparently being held captive by mutinous soldiers today in an attempted coup.

Witnesses said President Mamadou Tandja and his cabinet were missing after gunmen stormed the presidential palace. The violence came months after a referendum in Niger was passed allowing Tandja to extend his rule for years past the constitutional limit.

Moussa Mounkaila, a palace chauffeur, said that gunmen showed up as a meeting of government ministers was taking place at the palace.

A French diplomatic source said: "There is still some confusion but it seems that President Tandja and his ministers are in the hands of mutinous soldiers."

The BBC quoted a government source as saying that Tandja and his ministers were being held by soldiers. Smoke was seen rising from the palace amid heavy gunfire in Niamey, the capital of the uranium-exporting west African nation. There were some reports of fatalities.

Idy Baraou of BBC News in Niamey said on its website: "The exchange of gunfire has been between soldiers but it is confusing and one cannot tell one side from another. I saw tanks being fired and soldiers on the streets using machine guns.

"People have fled the area and some civil servants have locked themselves inside their offices."

Government officials could not be reached for comment. National radio did not mention the developments in an afternoon report. Earlier, an intelligence officer, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that the violence was a coup attempt that the presidential guard was trying to put down.

The opposition had protested against the August 2009 referendum, saying it granted Tandja near-totalitarian powers. Tandja claimed he was only pushing to stay in power because the people wanted it. He has taken the path of many long-serving African leaders, breaking a promise he had frequently made to step down when his term expired in December.
"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass

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