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Shots Heard Near Niger President's Palace

Updated at 11:30 a.m. ET

Witnesses say armed soldiers have stormed the presidential palace with guns blazing and left with the president, whose whereabouts are unknown.

Moussa Mounkaila, a palace chauffeur, told The Associated Press that the gunmen showed up as a meeting of government ministers was taking place at the place.

A local journalist who was working at the palace, Traore Amadou, says President Mamadou Tandja was taken by the commandos Thursday and his whereabouts are unknown. Only months ago, a referendum allowed Tandja to extend his rule for years past the constitutional limit in the uranium-rich West African nation.

The opposition protested the referendum, saying it granted Tandja near-totalitarian powers in the uranium-rich nation. Tandja claimed he was only pushing to stay in power because his people had demanded it.

After three coups hit Niger between 1974 and 1999, Tandja twice won votes deemed fair.

Government officials could not be reached for comment. National radio did not mention the developments in an afternoon report.

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