Over 600 people have been arrested in the Niger capital in what the junta called it "Operation Punch" - a crackdown on crime. One of our Observers in the country thinks it's got more to do with politics.

Amongst the 618 people arrested: several former ministers and numerous aids of former president Mamadou Tandja, ousted in a coup in February. The police say that there is no link between the arrests of the former ministers and the hundreds of others, which took place largely in districts which they say are not safe.

Many of the detainees are being held in the national police school in the Niamey.


“Nobody dares to talk openly in Niger anymore”

Moe Green (not his real name) is a Nigerian student currently studying financial management in Marrakesh, Morocco. He had returned to Niamey on a family visit just a few hours before the coup d'état against Mamadou Tandja was announced. Moe Green describes himself as apolitical.

The coup d'état against Mamadou Tandja was organised by a small minority of militants who are not supported by the rest of the army at all. It mustn't be forgotten that Tandja is above all an army man, so there is a section of the army which remains faithful to him. Knowing that all too well, the junta members feel threatened. In response, they've done two things. Firstly, they diminished the responsibilities of the army in order to weaken it. Secondly, they're arresting anybody who shows the slighest sign of being against the regime.

The junta is using ‘security measures' as a pretext for what they really think is anti-regime plotting. That was their excuse for arresting former ministers and the hundreds of others, which they labelled a ‘crackdown on crime'. When you look at who was actually arrested, they're all Tandja sympathisers. Nobody dares talk openly in Niger anymore. The media self-censors, there's a curfew from 11pm, roadblocks are everywhere - the atmosphere spells it out. Yesterday there were a number of arrests in Yantala, a district known for opposition gatherings.

I think the junta is losing credit. If some people were under the belief that they might do some good for the country, that number is getting increasingly smaller because of the arbitrary arrests. If people need to be arrested then you have to give a reason. Otherwise, they must be released."