, ABUJA, Dec 22 – A West African regional bloc on Tuesday said that the mandate of Niger\\\’s President Mamadou Tandja has expired, ignoring a new constitution he had pushed through.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) "takes note of the fact that December 22, 2009, marks the legal end of the mandate of President Mamadou Tandja," said a statement issued by the bloc\\\’s headquarters in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
In the face of considerable opposition, Tandja in August pushed ahead with a referendum on a new constitution for Niger, which extended his term in office by three years.
To do this, he dissolved the constitutional court, which considered the referendum unconstitutional, and also parliament in a bid to quash critics.
When he held highly controversial parliamentary elections in October, the opposition boycotted the polls and the 15-nation ECOWAS suspended Niger\\\’s membership. At the same time the European Union suspended development aid.
Talks between Tandja\\\’s regime and the opposition, mediated by ECOWAS, began in Niamey on Monday, but a source close to the discussions behind closed doors said on Tuesday that the rival sides could not agree on an agenda.
"While waiting for the results of the mediation under way (…) ECOWAS launches a pressing appeal to the Nigerien people in general and to the parties engaged in the dialogue in particular to avoid any action liable to threaten peace or disturb public order," the statement said.
The statement from Abuja was matched Tuesday in Niamey by the opposition Coordination of Democratic Forces for the Republic (CFDR), which includes political parties, human rights groups and trade unions.
"This day, December 22, 2009, marks the end of the mandate of Mamadou Tandja. He therefore has neither legitimacy nor legality," the CFDR said in a statement read on private radio stations.
The date could have been "historic" because it would have seen the first democratic transfer of power in the country, the opposition coalition added in its statement.