Bodyguard kills Niger President

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The Independent Online
NIGER'S PRESIDENT, Ibrahim Barre Mainassara, was assassinated yesterday in an apparent coup attempt in the West African country.

A correspondent for Radio France Internationale, reporting live from Niger's capital, Niamey, said that the president's body had been taken to a clinic in the city after he was fired upon by soldiers at the airport. The Prime Minister, Ibrahim Hassane Maiyaki, later confirmed that the President had been killed in an "unfortunate accident". A Western diplomat said the President had been shot by one of his own presidential bodyguards. He did not give details.

In the capital itself, troops with tanks had moved into the streets, blocking access to the presidential palace and other key locations, witnesses said.

Several Nigerian diplomats and businessmen in neighbouring Burkina Faso said that they had been told by government colleagues in Niamey that the takeover attempt began shortly after sunrise. A Reuters correspondent in Niamey said state radio was off the air but the broadcasting house was guarded by troops loyal to the President.

Witnesses said that the mutineers had fired on President Mainassara as he was preparing to fly travel to the country's desert interior. He was immediately taken to a nearby military hangar but it was unclear whether those taking him away were his attackers or his protectors. The airport was closed and officials said Air France cancelled a flight due to arrive yesterday afternoon.

There was no immediate explanation for the attempted coup, but it appears to be the climax of a week of mounting political tension over chaotic elections in February.

The assassination follows opposition calls for Mainassara to resign after the annulment of regional elections held earlier this week.

There were unconfirmed reports of attacks on vote counters and on Wednesday the Supreme Court annulled the elections and ordered a new round of voting. Opposition politicians had claimed they were winning the elections and accused the government of inciting the violence.

Mainassara, a former army colonel, seized power in January 1996, ousting the country's first democratically elected government. He placed thepresident, Mahamane Ousmane, under house arrest but released him three months later. Mainassara said he had staged the coup because Mr Ousmane had failed to address the economic and political problems of what is one of the world's poorest nations.

Early last year Mainassara's government quelled several army uprisings and mutinies. Two opposition politicians, including the former prime minister, and five commandos were arrested for allegedly plotting to kill the president.