France invites Niger coup leader to Africa summit


France invited the leader of a February 18 military coup in Niger to its Africa summit later this month, welcoming his promise to hand over power of the uranium-producing state within a year.

The invitation for junta leader General Salou Djibo to attend the May 31-June 1 summit in Nice was announced on Nigerien state television by Andre Parant, a diplomatic aide to President Nicolas Sarkozy in the capital Niamey.
“We welcomed the May 5 decision on the transition (to civilian rule) and I told (Djibo) that France was ready to help with this transition,” Parant said of a junta pledge earlier this month to hand back power to civilians within 12 months.

Djibo led a bloodless coup against former President Mamadou Tandja, who last year defied international and domestic critics to remove constitutional limits on his term in office in the impoverished West African state.

As a major uranium-producer, Niger is an important pillar in France’s nuclear-based energy policy and the invitation is a sign of Paris’ readiness to have dealings with the junta.

Separately, a Nigerien delegation will travel to Brussels next week to seek to persuade European Union officials to lift a Tandja-era suspension of some $450 million of development aid.