July 26, 2010 / 4:56 PM / 10 years ago

Toppled Niger leader says too ill to stand trial

* Asks to be spared trial due to poor health

* Says didn’t complain to ECOWAS over detention

NIAMEY, July 26 (Reuters) - Niger’s ex-president Mamadou Tandja has asked the ruling junta to spare him from trial due to ill health, according to his letter seen by Reuters on Monday.

Tandja, 72, was ousted and detained in February by a faction of his army after he drew international sanctions for amending the constitution to extend his rule and broaden his powers.

An anti-corruption commission formed by the junta in May is now poring through state dossiers to investigate allegations of misuse of public funds. It then plans to put suspects on trial.

In a July 22 letter addressed to the junta leader, General Djibo Salou, Tandja said that he was too ill to stand trial.

“Given my medical condition that requires regular monitoring in specialised circumstances, I ask that you reconsider your decision to put me at the disposal of justice,” wrote Tandja, who is under house arrest.

The junta’s cleanup campaign has been well received by ordinary Nigeriens, and sparing the former leader from trial could trigger public anger in the West African uranium producer.

The junta has won support from donor nations for calling for a transition to civilian rule through elections, set for January 2011. Some diplomats are concerned the cleanup campaign could stall or complicate the handover if it becomes too far-reaching.

Tandja said in June he had diabetes and cataracts. In his letter, he said he was not involved in a complaint filed by his family to regional bloc ECOWAS saying he was detained illegally — a move sources said angered the junta.

“I have the honour to submit this request to ask for your mercy and your indulgence with respect to the complaint filed in my name with ECOWAS,” he wrote. “I can assure you that I have had nothing to do with this.”

One of the poorest countries in the world, Niger is facing severe food shortages this year. It has attracted billions of dollars of investment in its uranium and oil industries, mainly from France and China. (Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Maria Golovnina)

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