Region warns Niger's leader on plan to keep power

Mon May 18, 2009 12:46pm GMT

* Economic sanctions plus AU measures threatened

* Niger ECOWAS membership could be suspended

* Opposition calling for resistance to referendum

NIAMEY, May 18 (Reuters) - Niger's neighbours could penalise it with economic sanctions if President Mamadou Tandja's plan to stand for a third term contravenes pledges to follow democratic principles, regional body ECOWAS said on Monday.

The government announced this month the 70-year-old leader, whose second and final term expires this year, would hold a plebiscite on constitutional changes to allow him to run again in polls due in November. The move sparked a street protest and opposition anger in the uranium-mining state.

"All constitutional changes are banned, as is non-democratic accession or maintenance of power," the wise-men council of the 15-country Economic Community of West African States said in a statement.

Any violation of democratic commitments could lead the Community to suspend Niger's membership, "impose an economic embargo on it and even seek other forms of sanctions by the African Union", Abdel Fatau Musah, ECOWAS's director of political affairs, told national television.

ECOWAS's wise-men council is composed of veteran political figures and has a mediation role in regional disputes.   Continued...

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