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NIAMEY (Reuters) - Authorities in Niger will attempt to evacuate to a hospital in the capital jailed opposition leader Hama Amadou, who will face off against President Mahamadou Issoufou in a Sunday run-off election, due to health issues, a government official said late on Monday.
Amadou, a former president of parliament speaker, was jailed in November in connection with a baby-trafficking scandal but finished second to Issoufou in the first round of polling last month.
He denies the charges against him and says they are politically motivated. His supporters claim he has suffered from ill health during the time he has been jailed in the town of Filingue, around 180 km (112 miles) northeast of the capital Niamey.
In the government's first admission that Amadou is ill, Dr. Idrissa Maiga Mahamadou, spokesman for the health ministry, said four specialists were sent to Filingue on Monday to assess his health.
"No one is opposed to his evacuation. The specialists went there to stabilize him first, before considering evacuating him ... Once he is in a condition to travel, he will be evacuated," Mahamadou said, speaking on state television.
He added that a helicopter was previously sent to Filingue to pick Amadou up on Friday but was unable to return due to a technical problem. The state of the road between Niamey and Filingue ruled out using a normal ambulance, Mahamadou said.
Amadou's own doctor said earlier on Monday that the opposition leader had already lost consciousness once before being revived in the prison infirmary.
A court is due to hear a new petition for his provisional release next Monday, the day after the run-off vote.
President Issoufou took office in April 2011, a year after a popular coup overthrew the West African nation's previous leader Tandja Mamadou.
He is working closely with Western nations, positioning himself as a key partner in the effort to boost security in the vast, arid Sahel region where Islamist militants are intensifying their insurgency.
However, critics have accused him of becoming increasingly authoritarian and clamping down dissent, including among the opposition.
Reporting by Joe Bavier; Editing by Bernard Orr