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Niger Says Nine Military Officers Arrested in Alleged Coup Plot

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Niger's government has arrested nine military officers for allegedly planning a coup, the interior minister said Saturday. That was more than twice the number of arrests reported earlier in the week.

President Mahamadou Issoufou said in a televised address Thursday that the alleged plotters had planned to use aerial firepower and had prevented the movement of military assets from the capital, Niamey, to the southern region of Diffa.

Issoufou was elected in 2011, a year after a coup, and is running for a second term in polls scheduled for February 21.

Political tension is already high, with critics accusing him of repression.

"Nine officers identified as responsible for the attempted coup have been arrested and will be presented before a military court," Hassoumi Massaoudou, Niger's interior minister, told reporters.

Massaoudou said a second lieutenant who had fled turned himself in to gendarmes.

Military sources and family members had previously said four senior officials were arrested, including the former military chief of staff, General Souleymane Salou, and Lieutenant-Colonel Dan Haoua, who headed Niamey's air force base.

Political opponents said they did not believe the government's claims.

"We don't see any evidence of the attempted coup," said opposition leader Amadou Boubacar Cisse. "Rather, he [Issoufou] has created a lot of problems around the election and has taken fraudulent actions with the electoral list."

In December, the government announced it would audit its voter register before the presidential election after demands lodged by opposition parties.