Niger president says won’t bow to foreign threats

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Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja will not bow to foreign pressure or the threat of economic sanctions as he sticks to plans for a referendum on prolonging his rule, the head of the uranium-exporting nation said.
Tandja wants to hold an August 4 vote on extending his final term which ends later this year. His plans have led to protests in Niger as well as criticism and aid cuts from donors abroad, Reuters reports.
The latest rejection of his critics came a day after Tandja told senior diplomats from the UN, the AU and West Africa’s regional body ECOWAS, who visited Niamey to discuss the crisis, that he remained open to dialogue.
“We hear international opinion. But, while they want me to take a step back, I will never do it. No and no again!”
Tandja told a news conference broadcast on state television.
“I intend for my country to remain sovereign and independent,” he added.
“The people of Niger must be heard. I have come to serve the people of Niger. I am not here to serve international opinion.”
Tandja maintains that Nigeriens want him to complete projects such as the 1.2 billion euro uranium mine being built by nuclear group Areva, which should make the desert nation the world’s No. 2 producer.
Other large infrastructure projects he says he wants to complete include a Chinese-backed oil refinery in the southeast and an Arab-funded hydropower project.
But the move  which has seen him dissolve parliament, replace the country’s top court that opposed the referendum plan and take executive powers has drawn criticism and been labelled a constitutional coup d’etat by some.
The EU last week became the first donor to follow through on threats of economic sanctions but analysts say Niger’s other sources of income are likely to mean that further threats will have little impact.
But Tandja said he would not exclude the possibility of forming a coalition government after the referendum if he won.
“To work for, to serve one’s country is what I live for. Closing the door to an opponent who wishes to serve his country, I will never do that. My door is always open,” he said, accusing the opposition of rejecting previous offers.