October 18, 2010 / 9:48 PM / 10 years ago

Niger junta widens purge, sacks secret service head

* Niger extends wave of arrests and sackings

* Coup plot suspected, senior security sources say

* Divisions within junta could threaten transition

NIAMEY, Oct 18 (Reuters) - The leader of Niger’s ruling military junta extended a purge of his inner circle on Monday, sacking the head of the west African state’s secret service, according to a decree broadcast on state television.

A few days ago General Salou Djibo ordered the arrest of his deputy and the head of the national guard on suspicion of plotting to overthrow him, according to senior security sources, revealing cracks within the junta that could threaten a planned transition to civilian rule.

“According to a decree signed Monday by General Salou Djibo, president of the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy, Lieutenant Yaye Hamadou is named director general of the DGDSE (secret service),” the decree said.

Hamadou replaces Seyni Chekaraou. No reason was given for Chekaraou’s dismissal.

Djibo took power after a February coup overthrew President Mamadou Tandja, who had angered many people in Niger for amending the constitution to enable him to stay in power.

Djibo has since won international plaudits for pledging a return to civilian rule through elections in the uranium producing nation within one year.

Last week, Djibo arrested his deputy Abdoulaye Badie and Abdou Sidikou, a top commander in the national guard, according to senior security officials. There was no immediate comment from either officer.

A senior police official told Reuters Badie and Sidikou were arrested for having planned to unseat Djibo in September during his trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He did not say how the alleged plot was discovered.

Djibo has also sacked his minister of equipment, Amadou Diallo, according to an announcement on national television last Friday. No reason was given.

Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, is drawing billions of dollars of investment from French power firm Areva, China National Petroleum Corp and other foreign companies.

If its transition to civilian rule is successful, Niger would be the second country in West Africa to return from military to civilian rule in less than a year. Guinea is due to hold its presidential run-off vote on Oct. 24. (Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; writing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Tim Pearce)

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