Niger junta says France plotting to ‘intervene militarily’

Niger junta says France plotting to ‘intervene militarily’

Niger’s new junta on Monday accused France of seeking to “intervene militarily” to reinstate deposed President Mohamed Bazoum as tension mounted with the former colonial power and neighbours.
France hit back in the evening with Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna denying the charges and adding it was still “possible” to restore Bazoum to power.

Bazoum, a western ally whose election just over two years ago marked Niger’s first peaceful transition of power since independence, was toppled on July 26 by the elite Presidential Guard.

Guards chief General Abdourahamane Tiani declared himself leader — but his claim has been shunned internationally and the West African bloc ECOWAS has given him a week to hand back power.

On Monday morning, the oil minister and the mining minister were arrested, the party charged. The head of the PNDS’s national executive committee was also arrested.

The junta had previously arrested the interior minister, the transport minister and a former defence minister, the party said.

The putschists took aim at Paris on national television, saying, “In its search for ways and means to intervene militarily in Niger, France with the complicity of some Nigeriens, held a meeting with the chief of staff of the Nigerien National Guard to obtain the necessary political and military authorisation.”

“And it’s necessary because destabilisation is perilous for Niger and its neighbours,” she said.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday vowed “immediate and uncompromising” action if French citizens or interests were attacked after thousands rallied outside the French embassy in Niamey.

Some tried to enter the compound but were dispersed by tear gas.

‘Extremely dangerous’

Colonna said the demonstration had been “organised, not spontaneous, violent, extremely dangerous, with Molotov cocktails, Russian flags appeared, anti-French slogans (that were) an exact copy of what you can hear elsewhere”.

Macron has spoken to Bazoum several times as well as to regional leaders, the presidential palace in Paris said.

On Sunday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sounded a tough warning.

The bloc demanded that Bazoum be reinstated within a week, failing which it would take “all measures” to restore constitutional order, which “may include the use of force”.

“It’s time for action,” said ECOWAS chairman Bola Tinubu, president of Nigeria — Niger’s neighbour to the southeast and the regional superpower.

Russia called for the swift return of “the rule of law” and “restraint from all parties.

Niger became the third Sahel country in less than three years, following neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso, to be shaken by a military coup.

In all three nations, a jihadist insurgency strained fragile governments, stoked anger in the military and rained economic blows on some of the world’s poorest countries.

The overthrow of elected presidents has been accompanied by anti-French, pro-Russian demonstrations.

Crucial ally

Protesters say France, the country’s traditional ally, has failed to shield them against the jihadists, whereas Russia would be a stronger ally.

In Mali, a 2020 putsch led to a bust-up with France which last year withdrew its troops as the junta brought in Russian paramilitaries.

France also quit Burkina Faso after two coups last year brought in a junta that adopted a nationalist line.

The withdrawals prompted France to reconfigure its decade-long anti-jihadist strategy in the Sahel, concentrating on Niger, where it fields 1,500 troops with a major air base near Niamey.

The latest coup, according to the putschists, was a response to “the degradation of the security situation” linked to the jihadist conflict, as well as corruption and economic woes.

International critics have ratcheted up pressure, targeting trade and development aid.

ECOWAS has suspended all commercial and financial transaction. France, the European Union and the United States — which has 1,100 troops in Niger — have either cut off support or threatened to do so.

Niger has seen four coups since independence from France in 1960 and numerous other attempts, including two previously against Bazoum.

The 63-year-old is a former interior minister whose election marked Niger’s first peaceful transition of power since independence.

The arid landlocked state, which frequently ranks at the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index, is struggling with two jihadist campaigns.


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