Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum has been detained by elite troops, who declared they now hold power in the unstable west African nation.
Western allies and international organisations have stood by Bazoum, but the chief of Niger’s army voiced backing Thursday for the coup plotters.
Here is what what we know about the crisis in Niger:
– The coup attempt –
A group of soldiers, most of them unknown to the public, claimed on national TV to have overthrown Niger’s government following an apparent coup, deposing democratically-elected Bazoum who came to power in 2021.
Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane said “all institutions” in the country would be suspended, borders closed and a curfew imposed.
“This follows the continued deterioration of the security situation, poor economic and social governance,” he said.
The announcement came after a day of tension and confusion amid what the government said was just “a fit of temper” by elements of the Presidential Guard.
A crowd gathered outside the presidential palace to protest against the takeover was dispersed.
The capital Niamey appeared calm, with streets mostly empty in pouring rain.
– President defiant –
Bazoum, after speaking with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said on Twitter, which is being rebranded as ‘X’, that the “hard-won gains” of democracy would be safeguarded.
Niger Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massoudou said Bazoum was “in good health”, and that the country’s “legal and legitimate power” was the one exercised by its elected president.
He called on “all the fractious soldiers to return to their ranks”.
A French diplomatic source said it was not certain that the soldiers really had achieved a fully-fledged coup d’etat.
“There is a video with mutineers saying that they have taken power, but that is not necessarily the case,” the source said.
But the head of Niger’s armed forces on Thursday said he endorsed a declaration by the coup plotters.
“The military command of the Nigerien armed forces… has decided to subscribe to the declaration by the defence and security forces… in order to avoid a deadly confrontation between the various forces,” said a statement signed by armed forces chief General Abdou Sidikou Issa.
– Rare Western ally in Sahel –
Events in Niger were worrying for Western governments, and especially France which stands to lose one of its last remaining allies in the Sahel, a turbulent region suffering from jihadist attacks linked to Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
France maintains 1,500 soldiers in Niger, which has 26 million inhabitants, after ending its anti-jihadist Barkhane operation and quitting Mali under pressure from the government.
“A successful coup in Niger would be a terrible blow to the region. In objective terms, Bazoum – who was democratically elected – was doing a lot of things right to save his country, and he was an ideal security partner for the West for that reason,” Michael Shurkin, a senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, said on Wednesday.
Shurkin also warned of any move the possible new masters of Niger could make to get closer to Russia, just as President Vladimir Putin hosts a Russia-Africa summit.
“Niger can ill afford to alienate its Western partners, and god forbid they invite in Russia, which we can count on to make all of Niger’s problems worse,” Shurkin said on LinkedIn.