January 19, 2011 / 10:22 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-Candidates seek to delay Niger presidential poll

* Candidates seek a Feb. 20 election date

* Vote aimed at restoring civilian rule

* Local polls were marred by delays, disorganisation

* No comment yet from junta

(Recasts with request for delay)

By Abdoulaye Massalatchi

NIAMEY, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Niger’s 10 presidential rivals have asked the ruling military junta to delay elections by three weeks to Feb. 20 and to replace the electoral commission after problems with local polls held earlier this month.

The presidential elections are meant to restore civilian rule after a military coup in February 2010 toppled the former president, Mamadou Tandja.

“Our political parties cannot agree to go to the polls Jan. 31, especially not with the electoral commission and its unreliable record. We have requested a postponement of elections,” Malam Sani Mahamane, a spokesman for the MDN party, told Reuters on Wednesday.

He said the 10 rival parties were seeking a new date of Feb. 20. A mediator from West African regional bloc ECOWAS was due to arrive in the capital Niamey for talks to resolve the election issues on Thursday, he said.

The country’s 10 presidential candidates had earlier in the week sent a letter to junta leader General Salou Djibo asking for the entire electoral commission to be disolved and replaced due to the problems with the local elections.

A junta official was not immediately available to comment on whether the election commission would be replaced or whether the election date would be pushed back.

Opponents of Tandja dominated local and municipal elections held Jan. 11, but delays and disorganisation prevented many Nigeriens from voting and led Tandja’s former political party and others to ask for the results to be scrapped.

The junta said scrapping the results was impossible after they were ratified by the Constitutional Court.

Niger has been run by soldiers since they stormed the presidential palace in February 2010 to topple Tandja, who had drawn widespread condemnation for altering the constitution to extend his rule and broaden his powers.

The junta has promised to leave power by April this year after a likely run-off between the top two presidential candidates in March.

The European Union said on Wednesday it would deploy an observer mission for the vote, which it said was “an essential step in the transitional process towards democracy in Niger.”

The election will follow those in fellow West African states Guinea and Ivory Coast, where a dispute over the winner of a Nov. 28 poll has threatened to rekindle a 2002-03 civil war.

A poor desert nation, Niger’s uranium riches have drawn billions of dollars worth of investments, mainly from French nuclear giant Areva. China National Petroleum Corp is also developing oil fields in the southeast. (Editing by Richard Valdmanis)

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