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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

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NIAMEY, Niger (AFP— The government of Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, has provoked anger with the purchase of a $40-million (30-million euros) presidential jet.

The country's Defence Minister Karidjo Mahamadou confirmed the deal yesterday, saying it would help improve the "influence of our illustrious republic".

The minister told state television the Boeing 737-700 was received on Sunday afternoon after being paid for with "around 20 billion CFA francs" in government money.

The plane it is replacing — also a Boeing 737 — was bought in the 1970s by the country's former president Seyni Kountche.

While it will remain in service, one aviation expert likened it to a "flying coffin", telling AFP that it "no longer meets international standards".

But the country's opposition has been highly critical of the purchase.

"With our country facing a new famine and with further serious flooding this year, the state decides to spend billions on a prestige purchase," said Ousseini Salatou, spokesman for the Nigerien opposition coalition.

Opposition lawmaker Amadou Ali accused the government of having "cheated" the public by hiding the funds used to buy the plane in the military equipment budget.

Despite vast uranium and newly discovered petroleum deposits, Niger ranks at the bottom of the United Nations' Human Development Index, and more than 60 per cent of the population living below the poverty line.

The Government attributes the ranking in part to the country's birth rate, which is the highest in the world, but the country ranks poorly across a range of indicators.

In June, the International Monetary Fund temporarily froze aid to neighbouring Mali after the Government there bought a $40-million presidential plane.

Financial assistance was ordered to be frozen until at least September while the officials investigated the purchase.




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