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Niger presidential candidate back in jail, opposition vows ‘boycott’

Niamey – Jailed Niger opposition leader Hama Amadou, due to stand in a presidential run-off next week, was back behind bars Friday after receiving medical treatment, his entourage said, as his coalition vowed to boycott the vote.

Sources close to Amadou – who has been in jail since November on baby-trafficking charges – said the opposition leader had been treated locally, going back on an earlier statement that he had been taken to the capital.

“Contrary to what we believed, Hama Amadou has not left his prison in Filingue for the hospital in Niamey,” a source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Salah Amadou, a senior official of the jailed candidate’s party, earlier said Amadou was suffering from eye problems and was being transferred to Niamey from his jail in Filingue, about 180km from the capital.

 The lawmaker later said the opposition leader had been “taken to the clinic in Filingue under a heavy security escort to receive treatment in the presence of his doctor, and then taken back to his cell”.

Ousseini Salatou, spokesperson for the opposition coalition known as COPA 2016, which backs Amadou for the presidency, said he had “been suffering for quite some time, but his condition worsened yesterday”.

‘Phantom candidate’

The confusion came as COPA 16 announced an “active boycott” of the election, which it said had been agreed “in connection with Mr Amadou”, with Salatou vowing that Issoufou would face “a phantom candidate” on March 20.

The coalition had announced on Wednesday that it was dropping out of a race it said was “unfair”, but Amadou’s lawyer insisted the following day that he would still be taking part.

Salatou, however, told a press conference Friday: “We have asked our activists and all patriots not to campaign and not to go out on March 20.”

He added: “Hama will not vote on March 20, COPA will not vote on March 20.”

Amadou, a 66-year-old former premier and ex-speaker of parliament, has campaigned from behind bars, where he has been held since November on baby-trafficking charges he says are politically motivated.

He nevertheless picked up nearly 18% of the vote in the first round of the presidential race on February 21, coming second to Issoufou who took 48% – failing to clinch an outright first-round majority victory.

The COPA 2016 coalition called for Amadou’s release on March 2 to allow him to campaign fairly against Issoufou. His lawyers said the judicial authorities would hand down a ruling on the case Monday.

The opposition has accused the government of fraud in the first round, claiming “unfair treatment between the two candidates” and complaining that the Constitutional Court has yet to officially confirm the results.

The government maintains the polls were “free and transparent” while the African Union, which sent observers, said it was generally satisfied with the organisation of the vote, despite logistical glitches and delays.

A total of 7.5 million people were eligible to vote in the country, which lies on the edge of the Sahara desert, where security is a growing concern after attacks by jihadists from neighbouring Nigeria, Mali and Libya.

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