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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Niger crisis: France to airlift its citizens and EU nationals amid coup backlash

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Foreign ministry statement comes as military governments of Burkina Faso and Mali warn against any military intervention in neighboring Niger.

France has announced that it will start evacuating its citizens and other European nationals from Niger, days after a military coup toppled the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, and plunged the country into chaos. The French embassy in Niamey, Niger’s capital, said in a statement on Tuesday that “an evacuation operation by air is being prepared” and “will take place very soon”.

The decision comes amid rising tensions between Niger and the former colonial power, France, which has been accused by the junta of plotting to reinstate Bazoum. On Sunday, supporters of the coup burned French flags and attacked the French embassy in Niamey. The French foreign minister Catherine Colonna denied any intention of military intervention and called for the restoration of constitutional order.

Bazoum, who was elected in February in a historic democratic transition, has been detained by his own presidential guard since 26 July. He is one of the last pro-western leaders in Africa’s Sahel region, which has faced jihadist insurgencies.

France has been a key ally of Niger in the fight against terrorism and has moved the center of its regional counter-terror operations to Niger after Mali’s military leaders chose to partner up with the Russian Wagner mercenaries in 2021.

The coup has also drawn condemnation from the West African bloc Ecowas, which gave the junta a week to reinstate Bazoum or face sanctions. Chad’s President Mahamat Idris Déby was in Niger on Monday, leading mediation efforts on behalf of Ecowas and was pictured with Bazoum.

However, the juntas leading Mali and Burkina Faso, which have both staged their own coups in recent years and moved away from France and towards Russia, warned that any military intervention in Niger to restore Bazoum would be considered a “declaration of war” against their two countries. They said the “disastrous consequences of a military intervention in Niger … could destabilize the entire region”.

Niger’s junta has not commented on the Ecowas ultimatum but vowed to defend the country from any “aggression” by regional or Western powers. It has also arrested several ministers and officials from Bazoum’s party, which has warned that Niger risks becoming a “dictatorial and totalitarian regime”.

Niger, which is rich in uranium, has been plagued by political instability and violence for decades. It is one of the poorest countries in the world and faces multiple challenges, including food insecurity, climate change, population growth and corruption.


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