Niger Coup Supporters Protest Sanctions as Neighbors Debate Intervention


As West African states consider intervening in Niger to restore democracy one week after a military coup, hundreds of supporters of Niger’s junta gathered in the capital Niamey on Thursday to protest sanctions imposed by the country’s neighbors.

General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the former head of Niger’s presidential guard, ousted President Mohamed Bazoum last week in a military coup and declared himself head of state.

Tchiani said the move was necessary because of insecurity in the country caused by an Islamist insurgency.

But violent incidents in Niger actually decreased by almost 40% in the first six months of 2023 compared with the previous six months, according to data published Thursday by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, or ACLED.

ACLED is a crisis-monitoring group based in the United States. The group’s data also indicate that security in Niger was improving thanks to strategies used by Bazoum’s government and assistance from French and U.S. forces.

In addition to imposing sanctions, the main regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, said it could authorize the use of force if soldiers did not restore Bazoum to power by Sunday.

U.S. President Joe Biden called Thursday for Bazoum’s immediate release. He said in a statement that Niger was “facing a grave challenge to its democracy.”

“The Nigerien people have the right to choose their leaders,” he said. “They have expressed their will through free and fair elections — and that must be respected.”

China’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that it thought Niger and regional countries had the capacity to find a “political resolution” to the current situation, which it refrained from explicitly calling a coup.

“We believe that Niger and regional countries have the wisdom and capability to find a political resolution to the current situation,” the ministry said in a written statement to Reuters.

“President Bazoum is a friend of China, it is hoped that his personal safety is guaranteed, and that relevant parties in Niger peacefully manage differences through dialogue with the fundamental interests of the nation and the people as a starting point,” the ministry added.

ECOWAS defense chiefs were scheduled to complete a second day of talks in neighboring Nigeria about the situation.

The White House, which also has stopped short of calling developments in Niger a coup, said Thursday, “[We are] going to continue to review all our options around our cooperation with the Nigerien government.”

But John Kirby, director of strategic communications for the National Security Council, refused to predict how the U.S. would react if the putschists ignored the deadline for restoring Bazoum to power.

“You saw ECOWAS come out yesterday and say that, in their view, any use of force would be a last resort,” Kirby told reporters. “I think I’d let them speak to that eventuality and the parameters of it. Right now, we’re focused on diplomacy. We still believe there’s time and space for that.”

The State Department said Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Bazoum by telephone Wednesday to discuss the situation.

Tchiani said in a televised address Wednesday that the junta rejects the ECOWAS sanctions “and refuses to give into any threats, wherever they come from. We refuse any interference in the internal affairs of Niger.”

Abdel-Fatau Musah, ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, peace and security, told reporters Wednesday in Abuja that the military option was a “last resort” for the West African bloc. But Musah said preparations had to be made for that possibility.

“There is a need to demonstrate that we cannot only bark but can bite,” he said.

ECOWAS also sent a delegation on Wednesday to Niger’s capital, Niamey, for talks with junta members.

Britain said Thursday that it was temporarily reducing its embassy staff in Niamey because of security concerns.

On Wednesday, the United States said it was ordering the “temporary departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and eligible family members from the U.S. Embassy in Niamey.” It also raised its travel advisory to Level 4 — Do Not Travel — for Niger.

France’s military and foreign ministry continued Wednesday to evacuate people from Niger, as did Italy. More than 1,000 people have left Niger so far on evacuation flights. The evacuees included French nationals along with others from Niger, Portugal, Belgium, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Germany, Canada, India, Austria and the United States.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

Source: VOA


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