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Macron says France’s Niger ambassador a ‘hostage’ in embassy

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French President Emmanuel Macron has accused the military junta that seized power in Niger of holding France’s ambassador and other diplomats hostage at the French embassy in Niamey. Macron said on Friday that the ambassador, Sylvain Itte, was being denied food and was surviving on military rations. He also said that Itte was persona non grata and could not leave the embassy.

The junta, which calls itself the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and the Rule of Law (CNRD), took over Niger in late July after ousting President Mahamadou Issoufou in a coup. The CNRD has suspended the constitution and dissolved the parliament and the government. It has also ordered police to expel Itte, who has been France’s envoy to Niger since 2020, within 48 hours. However, France has refused to recognize the authority of the junta and has maintained its diplomatic presence in Niger.

France is Niger’s former colonial power and a key ally in the fight against Islamist militants in the Sahel region. France has about 5,000 troops deployed in Niger and neighboring countries as part of Operation Barkhane, a counter-terrorism mission. France has condemned the coup in Niger and called for a swift return to civilian rule and democratic elections.

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a population of about 23 million. It faces multiple security challenges, including attacks by jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, as well as ethnic conflicts and climate change. Niger is also a major producer of uranium, which France relies on for its nuclear energy.

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