NIAMEY, Niger – Thousands of supporters of Niger’s coup leaders gathered on Friday near a French military base on the outskirts of the capital Niamey, defying the regional and international pressure to restore constitutional order.
The protesters shouted “down with France, down with ECOWAS”, a reference to the West African bloc which on Thursday approved deployment of a “standby force to restore constitutional order” in Niger.
Many of them waved Russian and Niger flags and expressed their backing for the country’s new strongman, Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani, who led a group of soldiers to overthrow President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.
Bazoum, who was elected in February in a vote deemed credible by international observers, has been held incommunicado by the coup plotters along with his family and some of his allies.
The European Union, the African Union, the United Nations and several countries have expressed their concern for Bazoum’s well-being and called for his immediate release and reinstatement.
The coup in Niger was the seventh in West and Central Africa in three years, raising fears of a backslide into authoritarianism and instability in a region facing multiple security and humanitarian challenges.
Former colonial power France, which has around 1,500 troops in Niger as part of its anti-jihadist operation in the Sahel, has condemned the coup and suspended its military cooperation with Niger.
France has also faced growing hostility and resentment from some segments of the population in Niger and other countries in the region, who accuse it of meddling in their internal affairs and supporting unpopular regimes.
Russia, on the other hand, has been seen as a potential alternative partner by some pro-coup activists, who have praised its stance against any foreign intervention in Niger.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it supported the ECOWAS efforts to mediate but warned against any military attempt to resolve the crisis in Niger, saying it could lead to a protracted confrontation and a sharp destabilization of the situation in the Sahara-Sahel region.