Niger arrests nine military officers for coup plot

Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou attends the opening ceremony of a flyover road built by Chinese company GSCI in Niamey, September 17, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Niger’s government has arrested nine military officers for planning a coup, the interior minister said on Saturday, more than doubling the number of arrests reported earlier this week.

President Mahamadou Issoufou said in a televised address on Thursday the alleged coup-plotters had planned to use aerial firepower and had prevented the movement of military assets from the capital Niamey to the southern region of Diffa.

Issoufou was elected in 2011, a year after a coup, and is running for a second term in polls scheduled for Feb. 21. Political tension is already high, with critics accusing him of repression and expressing doubts about the latest claims.

“Nine officers identified as responsible for the attempted coup have been arrested and will be presented before a military court,” Hassoumi Massaoudou, Niger’s interior minister, told reporters.

Massaoudou said a second-lieutenant who had fled turned himself in to gendarmes.

Military sources and family members had previously said four senior officials were arrested, including the former military chief of staff, General Souleymane Salou, and Lieutenant-Colonel Dan Haoua, who headed Niamey’s air force base.

Political opponents said they did not believe the government’s claims.

“We don’t see any evidence of the attempted coup,” said opposition leader Amadou Boubacar Cisse. “Rather, he (Issoufou) has created a lot of problems around the election and has taken fraudulent actions with the electoral list.”

In December the government announced it would audit its voter register before the presidential election after demands lodged by opposition parties.

Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaki; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Digby Lidstone and David Clarke