EU extends Niger talks deadline: sources

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The European Union has extended until next week a deadline it gave Niger for talks about the northwest African country’s constitutional crisis, political sources in the desert state said.
 


World bodies have heaped criticism on Mamadou Tandja, president of the uranium-exporting nation, for earlier this year rewriting his country’s constitution to give himself more power and extend his term in office without an election that had been due this month.
 
At the start of November, the EU froze development aid to Niger in protest at what it said was a "grave violation" of constitutional rule.
 
At the same time, it gave him 30 days to send an envoy to Brussels for talks to address the union’s worries, and called for a "return to constitutional order as soon as possible".
 
"The government asked for a delay and the EU agreed the EU gave five (extra) days," said Morou Amadou, a spokesman for the opposition and human rights activist.

A delegate is now due in Brussels by Dec. 8, sources said.

 
The EU agreed to the delay because it wants to work in concert with regional bloc the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), which is also conducting dialogue with authorities in Niger, Amadou said.
 
"This extension demonstrates a rational reading which the EU is applying to the situation in Niger," said Abdoulkarim Mamallo, a politician close to Tandja.
 
The EU had committed around €458 million ($689.9 million) in development funding for 2008-2013.



Earlier this year the bloc froze €180 million in budgetary aid in an effort to pressure Tandja into backing down, but such sums are dwarfed by the huge revenues Niger receives from minerals investors.

 
Energy firm Areva, majority-owned by the French state, is spending an initial €1.2 billion on what would be Africa’s biggest uranium mine, and Chinese state-owned China National Petroleum Corp struck a $5 billion deal to pump oil and build a refinery.