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France prepares to evacuate citizens from Niger as military coup get support from other West African nations

On Sunday, thousands of junta supporters surging through the streets of the national capital, Niamey, waving Russian flags and denouncing France, fuelling the evacuation efforts.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee Paris Updated on: August 04, 2023 17:50 IST
A protest led by supporters of coup leader Abdourahmane
Image Source : AP A protest led by supporters of coup leader Abdourahmane Tchiani in Niamey.

After supporters of the Niger military attacked the French embassy on Sunday, France is now preparing to evacuate its citizens as well as those from other European countries, as the recent coup gained support from three other West African countries ruled by the military.

According to the French Foreign Ministry, the recent violence in Niamey, the capital of Niger, is a major reason for the decision, while mentioning that citizens are unable to leave by their own means due to the closure of Niger's airspace.

The evacuation was scheduled to begin today, as hundreds of French citizens are residing in Niger, said the ministry. Many French and European nationals, including some who have worked for many years in Niger, have packed their bags in wait for the evacuation to begin.

"This happened very quickly and no one saw this coming. I was really surprised," said a former French military official training soldiers in Niger. 

The development comes after thousands of junta supporters surging through the streets of the national capital, Niamey, waving Russian flags, chanting the name of the Russian president and forcefully denouncing former colonial power France. A similar protest was seen in Burkina Faso in September last year after the second coup in the country.

Denouncing the violent attack, French President Emmanuel Macron's office, in a statement, said, "The President will not tolerate any attack against France and its interests". The office mentioned that it would respond to attacks against French diplomats, armed forces or businesses.

West African countries back military coup

Meanwhile, the countries of Mali and Burkina Faso have threatened that any "military intervention" against Niger will be considered as a declaration of war against both the countries.

Mali and Burkina Faso also denounced the West African regional body ECOWAS' economic sanctions as "illegal, illegitimate and inhumane" and refused to comply. The ECOWAS had threatened to use force if the ousted Niger President Mohamed Bazoum was not reinstated within a weak.

The regional body also suspended all commercial and financial transactions between its member states and Niger, the latter being the last Western ally against extremists in the region. All assets of Niger have been freezed in regional central banks. The sanctions are said to further impoverish the 25 million people in Niger, which heavily relies on foreign aid.

Guinea, which came under military rule in 2021, also issued a statement in support of Niger and condemned ECOWAS for the sanctions imposed.

"The sanctions measures advocated by ECOWAS, including military intervention, are an option that would not be a solution to the current problem, but would lead to a human disaster whose consequences could extend beyond Niger's borders,” said Ibrahima Sory Bangoura, general of the brigade, adding that the country won't comply with the sanctions.

Niger analysts say that the use of force by the ECOWAS can trigger violence between civilians supporting the coup and those against it. "The consequences on civilians of such an approach if putschists chose confrontation would be catastrophic,” said Rida Lyammouri, senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South.

Coup in Niger is not the first time 

It is worth mentioning Niger is a landlocked West African nation and has experienced four coup attempts since its independence from France in 1960. The state is one of the most unstable nations in the world. Later in February 2010, the country witnessed its last coup wherein then president Mamadou Tandja was overthrown.

In March 2021, a coup was attempted just two days before Bazoum was set to take oath of the President, but was failed. Subsequently, several top military officials including including the suspected ringleader, an air force captain named Sani Gourouza were arrested.

(with AP inputs)

ALSO READ | Niger: Pro-junta protestors strike French embassy in Niamey; Macron says won't tolerate, will respond

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