May 10, 2011 / 6:22 PM / in 8 years

UPDATE 1-Niger ex-president freed, charges dropped

* Former leader Tandja denied corruption allegations

* Junta alleged at least $128 mln stolen during his rule

(Updates with release, Tandja quotes)

NIAMEY, May 10 (Reuters) - Former Niger President Mamadou Tandja left prison to cheers from thousands of supporters on Tuesday after corruption charges against him were dropped.

Tandja ruled the uranium-rich West African country from 1999 until he was ousted by a military coup in 2010 when he tried tamper with the constitution to extend his stay in power.

Tandja, who denied the charges, had been detained by the military junta since February last year. A new civilian president, Mahamadou Issoufou, was sworn in last month.

“I always had faith in justice,” Tandja told Reuters as about 2,000 people lined the streets of the capital Niamey to greet him as he returned home. He said he had been well treated.

Tandja was moved to prison from house arrest in January, after the junta accused him of graft during his rule, according judicial sources.

“President Tandja will return to his home and family with head held high because all proceedings brought against him have been cancelled,” his lawyer Souley Oumarou told reporters after the Niamey appeal court ordered his release.

The junta alleged that an investigation revealed at least $128 million was stolen from state coffers during Tandja’s 10 years in office. (Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; Writing by Bate Felix; editing by David Lewis/Andrew Dobbie)

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