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By Abdoulaye Massalaki
NIAMEY Feb 8 Thousands of supporters of Niger
President Mahamadou Issoufou rallied in the capital Niamey on
Saturday in a show of force against an increasingly
well-organised and vocal opposition movement.
The rally, organised by a coalition of 36 pro-Issoufou
parties in response to a huge opposition protest in December,
took place amid growing tensions between the government and its
Interior Minister Massoudou Hassoumi this week accused
leading opposition figure Amadou Hama of calling for a coup and
inciting ethnic hatred. At least six journalists and three civil
society leaders have been arrested in the past two weeks over
"The opposition proclaims everywhere that it controls
Niamey. They must be disillusioned now," Bazoum Mohamed, Niger's
foreign minister and the leader of Issoufou's Nigerien Party for
Democracy and Socialism, told the crowd.
"All the opposition has left is defamation, insults and
calls to destabilise the regime," he said.
Police said some 18,000 protesters took part in Saturday's
December's opposition demonstration - the largest in Niger
since pro-democracy protests against then-President Mamadou
Tandja four years ago - drew 20,000 supporters according to
police, though protest organisers put the figure at 30,000.
Issoufou was elected president after a military junta, which
toppled Tandja in the wake of the protest movement, returned the
country to civilian rule in 2011.
However, the president angered both former allies and
opposition figures by naming a national unity government last
year without their consultation.
Hama, the National Assembly president whose Nigerien
Democratic Movement broke away from the ruling coalition, helped
found the new opposition movement the Alliance for the Republic,
Democracy and Reconciliation in Niger.
Hama is regarded as the main challenger to Issoufou for the
2016 presidential election.
Niger, with a fast-growing population of 17 million people,
is one of the world's poorest countries. It has some of the
lowest government revenues per capita in Africa despite the
start of oil production in 2011. Output is running at around
16,500 barrels a day, the International Monetary Fund said in
(Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Stephen Powell)