`Assassin' is made Niger president

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The Independent Online
THE NEW president of Niger was named last night as Daouda Malam Wanke, the officer who commanded the presidential guard unit and who is widely said to have assassinated the West African nation's former leader.

State radio said that the military also ordered the Supreme Court and National Assembly be dissolved, the constitution be suspended and what amounted to a complete ousting of the former regime. Wanke would be president and head of the National Council for Reconciliation, which will lead Niger for a nine-month transition period.

The announcement came after President Ibrahim Barre Mainassara was shot dead by members of his presidential guard at the airport in the capital, Niamey, on Friday. He was preparing to board a helicopter en route to a summit in Libya of six states in the region, known as Comessa.

Although the exact motives for Mainassara's death remain unclear, he was not a popular figure. He seized power in an army coup three years ago from Niger's first democratically elected government. He put down repeated military mutinies and protests by students and civil servants, and earned opposition wrath by imprisoning some of their leaders. Lucrative government jobs were doled out to his close relatives while soldiers went months without being paid.

"The armed forces of Niger understand the gravity of the situation and decided to put to rest the institutional void created by the sudden death of General Barre," said the army spokesman, Captain Djibril Hamidou. Officials did not say whether the transition programme would involve elections or an eventual change to civilian rule.

Earlier yesterday, Mainassara's body was hoisted aloft and carried into a simple tomb in his home village of Doumega some 185 miles east of Niamey. Dozens of soldiers in red berets stood to attention and military leaders, government officials, opposition politicians and diplomats turned out for the funeral.

Despite widespread knowledge of the assassination, state radio continued to insist that he died in an "unfortunate accident". Witnesses and diplomats said presidential guard members repeatedly shot Mainassara with a truck- mounted machine-gun as he crossed the airport. Other soldiers then also opened fire on him and his personal bodyguards, who quickly moved to protect him.

The head of his bodyguard unit was shot dead when he tried to return fire. Local journalists said at least three soldiers and one civilian were killed and six people wounded.

Niamey has been calm since Friday but it was not immediately clear how the population would react to the return of soldiers at the helm.