Niger Junta Accuses France of Plotting to ‘Intervene Militarily’

Bazoum, a western ally whose election just over two years ago was a watershed in Niger’s troubled history, was toppled on 26 July by the elite Presidential Guard.

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

Guards chief General Abdourahamane Tchiani has 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.

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

Earlier this Monday, the junta accused France of plotting a military intervention to reinstate the ousted leader. 

“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,” it said on national television.

The putschists also said six people needed hospitalisation after the embassy security services fired tear gas against the rally.

France has not given any reaction to the accusations.

Ministers and MPs arrested

Meanwhile, four ministers, a former minister and the head of ousted president Bazoum’s party have reportedly been arrested. 

According to the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism or PNDS, “After the president was detained last week, the putschists went on the attack again and carried out more arrests.”

On Monday morning, Oil Minister Mahamane Sani Mahamadou – the son of influential former president Mahamadou Issoufou – and Mining Minister Ousseini Hadizatou were allegedly arrested.

The head of the PNDS’s national executive committee, Fourmakoye Gado, was also arrested.

The junta had also previously arrested several other ministers and a member of parliament. 

Bazoum’s party has called for the immediate release of those detained, saying Niger risked becoming a “dictatorial and totalitarian regime.”

The arrests came as the junta called on “all former ministers and heads of institutions” to hand back their office cars by noon this Monday. 

Third Sahel country to fall to military control

This comes as the Economic Community of West African States sounded a tough warning to the junta on Sunday, demanding 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.”

Niger has become 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 has 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.

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

The withdrawal of French troops from Mali and Burkina Faso has prompted France to reconfigure its decade-long anti-jihadist strategy in the Sahel, concentrating its efforts in Niger, where it has 1,500 troops and a major air base near Niamey.

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

International condemnation

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

Ecowas has suspended all commercial and financial transactions, while France, the European Union and the United States, which has about a thousand troops in Niger, have either cut off support or threatened to do so.

Germany suspended financial aid and development cooperation on Monday, and UN humanitarian operations have also been put on hold.   

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said on Monday that the situation in Niger was a “cause for serious concern,” but President Bazoum’s overthrow has been welcomed by Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has extensive interests in Africa.

Responding to reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia called for all sides in Niger to show restraint, and for the fastest possible return to legal order.

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