Niger demonstrates in support of coup

NIAMEY: Hundreds of people rallied on the streets of Niger's capital Saturday in support of a military coup that ousted the West African nation's strongman president.

The demonstration came hours after a delegation from the 15-nation regional bloc led by former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar arrived overnight to press for a peaceful restoration of civilian rule.

"We're hoping for a peaceful transition after the events of the last few days," Senegal's Foreign Affairs Minister Madicke Niang told reporters late Friday.

On Thursday, mutinous soldiers raked the presidential palace with gunfire, seizing President Mamadou Tandja, who is reportedly being held in a military barracks outside Niamey. The soldiers swiftly announced a coup and said it was being led by Salou Djibo, a little known commander of a platoon based near the capital.

The junta has vowed to turn Niger into "an example of democracy and of good governance" after Tandja stayed in office past his legal mandate, which expired in December.

Opposition leaders say Tandja morphed from democrat to dictator over the course of several months last year, imposing rule by decree and dissolving parliament and the constitutional court because they opposed his plan to remove presidential term limits.

In August, Tandja pushed through a referendum that established a new constitution which removed term limits and gave him greatly boosted powers and an unprecedented three-year extension of his rule before another round of elections would be held.

The Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS, suspended Niger from its ranks after Tandja held onto power past his Dec. 22 mandate, and the U.S. and Europe cut off aid to the uranium-rich nation.

In New York on Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the coup, reiterating "his disapproval of unconstitutional changes of government as well as attempts to remain in power through unconstitutional means," U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

Ban noted the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy's statement saying it intends to restore constitutional order and called on the council "to proceed swiftly with these efforts through a process that is consensual and that includes all segments of Nigerien society."