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World News

Factbox: Who is Niger's Mamadou Tandja?

(Reuters) - Smoke was seen rising from Niger’s presidential palace Thursday in what an intelligence officer said was a coup attempt that President Mamadou Tandja’s guardsmen were trying to put down.

Tandja, ruler of the uranium-exporting central African nation for a decade, has come under heavy domestic and international criticism for last year orchestrating a reshuffle of the constitution to entrench and extend his power.

Here are some details about Tandja:

* POLITICAL ROLE:

-- Retired army colonel Tandja won Niger’s civilian-rule presidential election in November 1999 pledging to restore political stability as a prelude to rebuilding the shattered economy. He was re-elected in 2004, a first in Niger.

-- In 2005 the main opposition party sharply criticized the president over his handling of a hunger crisis when drought and a plague of locusts damaged harvests.

-- Mamadou was widely rebuked for failing to quickly publicize the extent of devastation caused by the food shortages, which hit millions in the impoverished nation.

-- Tandja would normally have had to step down when his second elected term expired in December 2009. But he launched the referendum arguing that citizens wanted him to stay on to oversee infrastructure projects and plans to exploit uranium and oil deposits.

* LIFE DETAILS:

-- Tandja was born in 1938 in Maine Soroa in the Lake Chad region of southeast Niger 1,400 km (870 miles) east of the capital, Niamey.

-- He pursued a career in the Nigerien Armed Forces, where he rose to the rank of colonel. In 1974 he took part in Niger’s first military coup, ousting President Hamani Diori.

-- He became Prefect of the Tahoua region from 1981-88 and then became for two years Ambassador to Nigeria.

-- He was Interior minister from 1990-91 when then President Ali Seybou dismantled the military government and instituted a civilian democracy. Tandja also retired from the military.

-- He made two unsuccessful presidential bids in the 1990’s and was active in political demonstrations against government. He was briefly arrested before achieving success in late 1999.

Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit

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