Niger junta says France planning strikes to free Bazoum

The Niger military junta that seized power last week and ousted democratically elected president Mohamed Bazoum said on Monday the toppled government had authorised France to carry out strikes at the presidency to try to free Bazoum.

The military junta, which has confined Bazoum to the presidential palace since Wednesday, has previously warned against foreign attempts to extract him, saying it would result in bloodshed and chaos.

The military’s comments were made by army Colonel Amadou Abdramane, one of the coup plotters, on state television. He said that the authorisation was signed by Niger Foreign Affairs Minister Hassoumi Massoudou, acting as prime minister.

Massoudou could not be reached for comment. France has condemned the coup and urged that Bazoum be reinstated but has not announced any intention to intervene militarily. Paris did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

The coup in Niger followed military takeovers in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso over the last two years, all of which have come amid a wave of anti-French sentiment.

Nigerien security forces prepare to disperse pro-junta demonstrators gathered outside the French embassy, in Niamey, the capital city of Niger July 30, 2023. REUTERS/Souleymane Ag Anara REFILE – CORRECTING NATIONALITY NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

France has had troops in the region for a decade helping to fight an Islamist insurgency, but some locals say they want the former colonial ruler to stop intervening in their affairs.

Niger has been a key ally in Western campaigns against insurgents linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel, and there are concerns the coup could open the door to greater Russian influence in the region, and also allow the insurgency to spread.

Supporters of the junta burned French flags and attacked the French embassy in Niger’s capital Niamey on Sunday, drawing tear gas from police. The junta accused France in another statement of shooting at protesters, injuring six.

French president Emmanuel Macron said any attacks on French interests in Niger would be met with a “swift and uncompromising response.”

West African regional bloc ECOWAS has imposed sanctions and said it could authorize the use of force if Niger’s coup leaders fail to reinstate ousted president Bazoum within a week.

Chadian President Mahamat Idriss Deby flew to Niger over the weekend to help mediate the crisis, and posted pictures on social media showing him meeting with Bazoum and separately with coup leader Abdourahamane Tiani, whom the junta has declared head of state.

Deby said they had discussions to explore ways “to find a peaceful solution.”

Deby seized power in 2021 after the death of his father Idriss Deby, the long-ruling former president, but he has remained a close ally of France.

Source: Reuters