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Monday, July 22, 2024

NIGER COUP WIDELY CONDEMNED, COUNTRIES URGE RETURN TO ORDER

Date:

NIAMEY, (REUTERS) – Niger President Mohamed Bazoum remained held in the presidential palace on Thursday afternoon and it was unclear who was in charge of the country after soldiers on Wednesday evening declared a military coup that sparked widespread condemnation.

France, the country’s former colonial power, and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS called for Bazoum’s immediate release and a return to constitutional order. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said that constitutional order should be restored.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said cooperation with Niger’s government was contingent on its “continued commitment to democratic standards”.

The U.S. also supports taking action at the United Nations Security Council to de-escalate the situation in Niger, a spokesperson for the U.S. U.N. mission said.

African Union Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat said he had spoken on Thursday with Bazoum and that the president was “fine”, Russian news agency RIA reported.

Niger’s coup is the seventh in West and Central Africa since 2020 and could have grave consequences for democratic progress and the fight against an insurgency by jihadist militants in the region, where Niger is a key Western ally.

A new leader has not yet been publicly announced.

The coup was started out by the presidential guard, which is drawn from the armed forces and usually protects the president and his entourage, is headed by General Omar Tchiani.

But he was not among the soldiers who announced Bazoum’s replacement on television late on Wednesday.

Aneliese Bernard, director of a U.S.-based risk advisory group Strategic Stabilization Advisors, told Reuters uncertainty remained, and that political and security elites were still debating next steps.

DEMONSTRATIONS’ BAN

Supporters of the coup ransacked and set fire to the headquarters of the ruling party in Niamey, the capital, on Thursday after the army command declared its backing for the takeover started by soldiers of the presidential guard.

The same crowd had previously gathered in front of the National Assembly. Some waved Russian flags and chanted anti-French slogans, echoing a growing wave of resentment towards former colonial power France and its influence in the Sahel region. Niger gained independence from France in 1960.

State TV later showed a statement from the interior ministry condemning acts of vandalism and banning demonstrations until further notice.

In a statement signed by its chief of staff, the army supported soldiers who announced in a late night televised address that they had stripped Bazoum of power.

The army said its priority was to avoid destabilising the country and to protect the president and his family.

WORSENING INSECURITY

Juntas in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso have grown closer to Russia since they took charge, in 2020 and 2022, respectively, and cut ties with traditional Western allies.

The United States said it has not seen any credible indications of involvement by Russia, or the Russian Wagner Group private army, in the coup in Niger.

Since relations with Burkina Faso and Mali’s juntas soured, prompting foreign troop withdrawals, Niger’s role had become increasingly important for Western powers helping fight the Sahel’s insurgency. France moved troops to Niger from Mali last year.

Colonel Amadou Abdramane, who announced the coup on state television, said defence and security forces had acted in response to deteriorating security and bad governance.

Insecurity has remained a problem since Bazoum was elected in 2021 as jihadists that took root in Mali in 2012 gained ground, killing thousands and displacing over 6 million across the Sahel.

“We hope the army coming to power will resolve the security crisis. Today terrorism has uprooted so many villages … our children have become widows and our grandchildren orphans,” said Hadjia Aiss, an elderly woman who was among the crowd outside parliament.

POLITICAL PARTY ACTIVITIES SUSPENDED

France landed a military aircraft in Niger on Thursday morning despite an airspace closure imposed overnight, Abdramane, a member of the air force, said.

There was no immediate comment from the French foreign and defence ministries. A diplomatic source said it did not amount to airspace violation as the aircraft had taken off before borders were declared shut.

Earlier, as Western officials said the status of the coup attempt was unclear, Bazoum and Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massoudou urged democratic forces in the country to resist the power grab.

The United Nations said in a statement it was putting its humanitarian operations on hold in the country, which was already facing escalating violence, socio-economic challenges and climate change.

The takeover started on Wednesday, when some guards at the presidential palace in Niamey cut it off, blocking the president inside.

Abdramane announced on Thursday that all activities of political parties were suspended until further notice.

Bazoum, in a social media post on Thursday morning, vowed to protect “hard-won” democratic gains.

He has not posted or commented since. Several word leaders said they had spoken to him, including the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

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