African nations threaten force in Niger as Europe pulls aid after coup

Niger’s neighbors threatened military intervention in the West African country if ousted President Mohamed Bazoum is not returned to power by Aug. 6, raising the pressure on the mutineers who plunged the nation into turmoil by overthrowing its democratically elected leader last week.

In a Sunday communiqué, leaders of ECOWAS, or the Economic Community of West African States comprising 15 African nations, condemned Bazoum’s detention as an “attempted coup d’état” and said they would take all measures necessary if he isn’t released within a week. “Such measures include the use of force,” they said.

The deadline comes as the European Union and United Kingdom announced they were pulling aid from the country. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken previously suggested that Washington could do the same if Bazoum is not returned to office. Bazoum and his predecessor have worked closely with the United States and other Western allies in confronting the threat posed by Islamist militants in the region.

Soldiers barricaded Bazoum in the presidential palace on Wednesday, with the head of the presidential guard, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, later announcing they seized power because of the “harsh reality of security in Niger” and declaring himself the country’s leader. If the army holds on to power, Niger will be the sixth sub-Saharan African nation to be taken over by a military junta since 2021, forming an unbroken string of military regimes from Africa’s Atlantic coast to the Red Sea.

Thousands of protesters backing the junta were photographed marching through the streets of Niamey, Niger’s capital, over the weekend. On Sunday, pro-junta crowds threw stones at the embassy of Niger’s former colonial ruler, France, and attempted to set the building alight before being dispersed by security forces, Reuters reported.

Some demonstrators also carried signs calling for French forces to exit their country, where Paris has deployed roughly 1,500 troops to battle militants in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso. The United States also deployed about 800 troops at a time to Niger, and operates drones out of a military base on the city of Agadez.

French officials condemned Sunday’s violence in the capital and urged Nigerien forces to safeguard the embassy building. By Sunday afternoon, Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told French radio that the situation had calmed and said there were no plans to evacuate French citizens from Niger. “The era of coups d’etat in Africa must stop. They are not acceptable,” she said.

Military mutiny in Niger comes after string of coups across region

Over the weekend, the governments of 11 West African nations issued a statement labeling Bazoum’s detention a “hostage situation” and demanded his immediate release. On top of its threat of military intervention, ECOWAS announced a slew of sanctions against Niger, to be imposed with immediate effect.

ECOWAS members also shut their land and air borders with Niger and ordered all commercial transactions between the nations suspended with immediate effect, according to the communiqué.

In a statement Sunday, Blinken welcomed ECOWAS’s response, while at the same time urging all parties to find a peaceful resolution and for Niger’s military junta to release Bazoum. “The legitimate, democratically-elected government must be reinstated immediately,” he tweeted.

At a news briefing on Saturday, Blinken told reporters that Washington’s “significant” economic and security arrangements with Niger, worth “hundreds of millions of dollars,” could be cut off if Bazoum is not restored to office.

Blinken says U.S. aid to Niger in ‘clear jeopardy’ after military coup

The E.U. suspended financial aid and security cooperation with Niger over the weekend, condemning the “putsch” in a statement. The 27-member bloc had established a military mission to the country late last year intended to contain the threat of terrorism and a spillover in violence from neighboring Mali.

Josep Borrell, the E.U. foreign policy chief, reiterated on Monday that the bloc still recognizes Bazoum as Niger’s head of state. “Any authority other than his own cannot be recognized,” he said in a statement. “He must regain, without delay and without condition, the freedom and fullness of his high office.”

“We hold the putschists responsible for any attacks on civilians, diplomatic personnel or facilities,” Borrell said. He added that the E.U. takes issue with any accusations of foreign interference: “It is important that the will of the people of Niger, as expressed by the votes, be respected,” he said.

Western allies have sent significant aid to Niger since Bazoum came to office in 2021, marking the West African nation’s first peaceful transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960.


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1: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/07/31/niger-coup-ecowas-aid-france/

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