The soldiers who seized power in Niger named an army colonel as their leader today hours after announcing on state TV that they were in charge of the country.
A junta calling itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy said it was being led by Salou Djibo.
Armed soldiers stormed the presidential palace yesterday, kidnapping President Mamadou Tandja whose location remained unknown today.
The junta said it wanted to turn Niger into “an example of democracy and of good governance.” A diplomat in the region described the coup’s leaders as being part of an army faction that is deeply disillusioned with Mr Tandja for violating his constitutionally mandated term limit.
The uranium-rich country has become increasingly isolated since then, with the 15-nation regional bloc of West African states suspending Niger from its ranks and the US government cutting off non-humanitarian aid and imposing travel restrictions on some government officials.
However, there were also fears that the military group could attempt to cling to power in Niger, as the junta in Guinea did following a December 2008 coup.
The coup leader there first promised to hold elections in which he would not run, only to later suggest he may have changed his mind. A year later he went into voluntarily exile after his aide-de-camp tried to assassinate him.
The African Union’s top executive, Jean Ping, condemned the coup in Niger and said that the AU “demands a quick return to constitutional order.”
In their broadcast on state TV the soldiers said the country was under a curfew and all its borders were sealed.
A diplomat in neighbouring Burkina Faso said the soldiers had been led by Colonel Abdoulaye Adamou Harouna, the former aide-de-camp of Niger’s previous coup leader Major Daouda Mallam Wanke.
Wanke led Niger’s 1999 coup, but organised democratic elections less than a year later, which Mr Tandja won. But instead of stepping down as mandated by law on December 22, he triggered a political crisis by pushing through a new constitution in August that removed term limits and gave him greater powers.