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Niger jails protestors asking to see French mining contract details

Ali Idrissa COURTESY PHOTO

Ali Idrissa COURTESY PHOTO

(GIN) — Nigerien activists planning peaceful demonstrations during a recent visit of French President Francois Hollande found themselves in custody after police raided homes including that of Ali Idrissa, national coordinator of the Publish What You Pay coalition.

The protestors were demanding to see the terms of a new uranium extraction contract between Niger and the French state-owned nuclear company Areva.

“This goes to show we’re living in a dictatorship,” Idrissa said from his office in Niamey after being released. “We wanted to exercise our democratic right to protest. This is really serious.”

His fellow campaigners, including the trade union activist Solli Ramatou, remain in detention. Idrissa was unclear exactly how many people had been arrested.

Niger agreed to terms with Areva in May over the extraction of uranium from its mines in the north after months of difficult negotiations. Although the government insisted it had secured the best deal for its people, including increased investment in the sector and the promise Nigeriens would be promoted to top management, it has yet to disclose the exact terms of the agreement.

Publish What You Pay and other groups want assurance Areva is abiding by the country’s mining code. A constitution, passed in 2010, states by law all contracts agreed with natural resource extraction companies must be published.

“We condemn the arrests of Nigerien civil society activists by the government,” Alice Powell, from the group’s head office in London, said. “Niger’s citizens should be free to debate how their natural resources should be managed. It is very disappointing to see the government shut down debate in this manner.»

The Nigerien government has not publicly commented.

France, in the footsteps of the U.S., has been planning a major military thrust into West Africa with soldiers deployed in Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Mali. Chad will host the French command center.

Soldiers to be sent to Niger are expected to support a U.S. surveillance drones base that opened last year to monitor Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

A video, “Niger’s resources should go towards helping the Nigerien people” with English subtitles, can be viewed at www.theguardian.com/global-development/video/2012/oct/25/niger-resources-nigerien-people-video.

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