POLITICS

Niger Junta Accuses Former Colonial Master France of Plotting Military Intervention

Niger’s new junta on Monday accused France of seeking to “intervene militarily” to reinstate deposed President Mohamed Bazoum, as tensions soared with the former colonial power and its 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.

And in a sign of escalating regional tensions, the junta-led governments of Mali and Burkina Faso warned late Monday that any military intervention in Niger would be considered “a declaration of war” on both their countries too.

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.

Bazoum is one of a dwindling group of elected presidents and pro-Western leaders in the Sahel, where since 2020 a jihadist insurgency has also triggered coups in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Bazoum’s PNDS party on Monday warned Niger risked becoming a “dictatorial and totalitarian regime” after a series of arrests.

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

The European Union condemned the arrest of ministers from the ousted government on Monday and demanded they be freed immediately.

‘Extremely dangerous’

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

Colonna told France’s BFM news channel the allegation was “wrong” and that it was still “possible” to return the democratically-elected president to power.

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.

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 southern neighbour and the regional superpower.

Niger became the third Sahel country in less than three years, following 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.

On Monday Burkina Faso and Mali warned of the “disastrous consequences of a military intervention in Niger, which could destabilise the entire region”.

Crucial ally

Protesters supporting the junta 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 transactions. 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.

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

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.

(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – AFP)

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