Gunfire erupts in Niger capital in apparent coup bid

Thu Feb 18, 2010 3:30pm GMT

By Abdoulaye Massalatchi

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Smoke was seen rising from the presidential palace amid heavy gunfire in Niger's capital, Niamey, on Thursday in an apparent coup attempt.

Political tensions have been high in the central African uranium exporting country in recent months over President Mamadou Tandja's extension of his rule, which drew widespread criticism and international sanctions.

"We can hear gunshots from time to time but ... the President is in his office," a security source inside the presidential palace told Reuters by telephone.

Witnesses said machine gun and heavy weapons fire erupted in the city at around 1200 GMT and that smoke was rising from the presidential palace. A Reuters witness later saw five injured soldiers at a hospital in Niamey.

An intelligence officer, who asked not to be named, said the violence was a coup attempt that the presidential guard was trying to put down. A French diplomatic source said the fighting appeared to have been short-lived.

"There was apparently an attempted coup d'etat," the diplomatic source said. "Shots were heard in the barracks of the presidential guard."

One diplomat had travelled across the city without seeing any military deployment, he said. Soon after 1500 GMT, the city's main markets had closed, the Reuters witness said.

Police sources said they believed the attackers came from outside the city in armoured vehicles.   Continued...

<p>Niger's President Mamadou Tandja attends the plenary session of the Africa-South America Summit in Margarita Island September 27, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins</p>
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