By Abdoulaye Massalaki
NIAMEY (Reuters) - Four people arrested for ties to an attempted coup in Niger in December have confessed to the plot and asked for clemency, the defense minister said on Wednesday.
At least 13 people, including a civilian, had been arrested, Defence Minister Mahamadou Karidio said.
Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou said on national television on Dec. 17 that the coup had been foiled.
There have been several coups in the landlocked West African nation, which the West sees as an important ally against terrorism, since independence from former colonial ruler France in 1960. Issoufou took power a year after a coup in 2011.
He is expected to win a second term in a February election but critics have said he has become increasingly authoritarian.
Karidio added that Hama Amadou, a principal opposition figure and presidential candidate, had been questioned as part of the investigation.
Lawyers went on a 24-hour strike on Monday to protest against what they called arbitrary detentions by the secret service, which the bar association said was denying access to clients.
"I can confirm with honor that at least four people have confessed to having prepared a coup d'etat, starting with their leader," Karidio told journalists on Wednesday. "They asked for clemency."
Karidio did not name those said to have confessed but said a head of an artillery battalion, an air base commander and the army's former inspector-general were among those arrested.
Family members of the accused were not immediately available for comment.
The defense minister said the presumed head of the botched coup plot had a list naming 10 other officers, but it was not yet clear whether they were involved.
Another 10 civilians and three customs officers were under investigation for ties to the plot and were being held for questioning by the president's secret service, Karidio said.
Amadou, once a friend to the president, was arrested upon his return from exile in November on suspicion of ties to a baby-trafficking ring. On Jan. 9 he was authorized to stand in elections but was denied release from prison two days later.
(Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)