Niger to fly jailed opposition leader abroad for medical help

by Reuters
Tuesday, 15 March 2016 19:52 GMT

(Updates with more detail on condition, government spokesman comments)

NIAMEY, March 15 (Reuters) - Jailed Nigerien opposition leader Hama Amadou must be flown abroad to seek specialised medical attention, a government spokesman said on Tuesday, just days before he faces a run-off election against President Mahamadou Issoufou.

Amadou, a former president of parliament speaker, was jailed in November in connection with a baby-trafficking scandal but finished second to Issoufou in the first round of polling last month.

He denies the charges against him and says they are politically motivated. His supporters claim he has suffered from ill health during the time he has been jailed in the town of Filingue, about 180 km (110 miles) northeast of the capital Niamey.

In the government's first acknowledgement that Amadou is ill, Dr. Idrissa Maiga Mahamadou, spokesman for the health ministry, said late on Monday that four specialists were sent to Filingue on Monday.

On Tuesday they concluded that he would require attention in specialist facilities outside Niger.

"The (medical) report concludes that he has a chronic illness which he has suffered from for three years and that he must be evacuated to a specialised centre," government spokesman Marou Amadou told reporters.

The nature of Amadou's illness was not immediately clear, but the spokesman said that he was also suffering from fatigue.

A helicopter was previously sent to Filingue to pick Amadou up on Friday but was unable to return due to a technical problem. The state of the road between Niamey and Filingue ruled out using a normal ambulance, Mahamadou said on Monday.

Amadou's own doctor said earlier on Monday that the opposition leader had already lost consciousness once before being revived in the prison infirmary.

A court is due to hear a new petition for his provisional release next Monday, the day after the run-off vote.

President Issoufou took office in April 2011, a year after a popular coup overthrew the West African nation's previous leader Tandja Mamadou.

He is working closely with Western nations, positioning himself as a partner in the effort to boost security in the vast, arid Sahel region where Islamist militants are intensifying their insurgency.

However, critics have accused him of becoming increasingly authoritarian and clamping down dissent, including among the opposition. (Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaki; Writing by Joe Bavier and Edward McAllister; Editing by Bernard Orr/Ruth Pitchford)

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