Africa regional court asks Niger junta to release toppled leader

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[JURIST] The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) [AICT backgrounder] ruled Monday that the Nigerien military junta should release ousted president Mamadou Tandja [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] whom they have held since deposing him [JURIST report] in a February coup. The court, which does not have the power to make the junta comply with its judgment, ruled that Tandja’s detention was illegal [AFP report]. Tandja’s lawyer said that the junta must respect [Reuters report] the court’s decision and release his client. The junta, however, has indicated it will appeal the ruling [BBC report].

Last week, Nigerian voters approved a constitution [JURIST report] limiting presidential powers that military leaders say will aid the transition back to civilian rule. The February coup, which left at least three Nigerien soldiers dead, was in response to a referendum abolishing presidential term limits [JURIST report], allowing Tandja to remain in office for three more years and to run in any subsequent elections. Niger’s opposition parties denounced the referendum, claiming that Tandja inflated poll numbers to support the new constitution’s adoption. After the coup, Nigerien rights group United Front for the Safeguard of Democratic Assets (Fusad), called for the prosecution of Tandja [JURIST report] on treason charges. Allied with the opposition party, Fusad claims that Tandja is guilty of corruption violating the constitution [AFP report], and alleges that he gave out contracts to foreign oil and uranium firms. Niger [CIA World Factbook profile], which is known for its exportation of uranium, has gone through five constitutions and military regimes since it’s founding in 1960.

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