* Alliance seen boosting Issoufou’s chances in second round
* Vote meant to return Niger to civilian rule after coup
By Abdoulaye Massalatchi
NIAMEY, Feb 9 (Reuters) - The third-place finisher in Niger’s presidential election on Wednesday threw his support behind veteran opposition candidate Mahamadou Issoufou leading into next month’s run-off.
The move could improve Issoufou’s chances against favourite ex-premier Seyni Oumarou, who represents the party of deposed leader Mamadou Tandja and who has won the backing of around 20 other political parties for the March 12 second-round.
“After a thorough analysis of the political situation .... the Nigerien Democratic Movement chooses to support Mahamadou Issoufou ... in the second round of the presidential election,” Hama Amadou’s MDN party said in a release.
A poor desert nation, Niger’s uranium riches have drawn billions of dollars worth of investments, mainly from French nuclear giant Areva CEPFi.PA.
It is also struggling against a rising threat from al Qaeda-linked fighters, who last month claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Frenchmen from the capital Niamey who were later found dead.
The election is meant to return the uranium-exporting Sahel country to civilian rule after soldiers ousted Tandja for oustaying his term in office.
Issoufou took about 36 percent of the Jan. 31 first-round vote over Oumarou’s 23 percent.
Amadou came in third with just under 20 percent of the vote — enough to give Issoufou a solid majority in the second-round if Amadou’s supporters heed the call.
Prior to Amadou’s announcement, Oumarou was seen as favourite to win as the MNSD is part of an alliance of around 20 parties which agreed a week before the first-round to seek a coalition government together.
The last-minute alliance drew criticism from opponents of the MNSD, who argue it cannot be trusted with power after it helped Tandja force through a constitutional rejig extending his mandate and broadening his powers.
Tandja is being held on fraud charges.
Junta leader Salou Djibo, who came to power after the February 2010 coup, has been praised for his promise to leave power by April this year.
Editing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Ralph Boulton