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Niger junta closes airspace fearing military intervention as ECOWAS deadline to reinstate president ends

It was not immediately clear on Sunday what ECOWAS would do next. Thousands of people at Sunday’s rally in Niger’s capital, Niamey, cheered the coup leaders’ appearance and expressed defiance against both the ECOWAS threat and France’s long presence in the region.

Edited By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 Niamey (Niger) Updated on: August 07, 2023 8:40 IST
Niger airspace closed
Image Source : AP/PIXABAY Niger airspace closed

As the coup leaders rejected ECOWAS's deadline to reinstate the country’s ousted president, Niger has now closed its airspace until further notice citing the threat of military intervention from a regional bloc. In a statement released on Sunday, a junta representative said, "In the face of the threat of intervention that is becoming more apparent … Nigerien airspace is closed effective from today."

According to the junta led by Gen Abdourahmane Tchiani, there were information about the military intervention from "external forces" in order to either reinstiate President Mohamed Bazoum's government or an attempt to free him would be made. 

Neighboring Nigeria’s Senate has pushed back against the plan by the regional bloc known as ECOWAS, urging Nigeria’s president, the bloc’s current chair, on Saturday to explore options other than the use of force. ECOWAS can still move ahead, as final decisions are made by consensus by member states, but the warning on the eve of the deadline raised questions about the intervention’s fate.

Notably, ECOWAS--- also known as CEDEAO, is a regional political and economic union of fifteen countries located in West Africa. The main aim of this union is to ensure a "collective and self-sufficient" economy for its member states by creating a single large trade bloc by building a full economic and trading union.

Coup has already sought help from Wagner group

The July 26 coup, in which mutinous soldiers installed Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani as head of state, adds another layer of complexity to West Africa’s Sahel region that’s struggling with military takeovers, spreading Islamic extremism and a shift by some states toward Russia and its proxy, the Wagner mercenary group.

Niger’s ousted President Mohamed Bazoum said he is held “hostage” by the mutinous soldiers. An ECOWAS delegation was unable to meet with Tchiani, who analysts have asserted led the coup to avoid being fired. Now the junta has reached out to Wagner for assistance while severing security ties with former colonizer France.

Algeria and Chad, non-ECOWAS neighbors with strong militaries in the region, have said they oppose the use of force or won’t intervene militarily, and neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso — both run by juntas — have said an intervention would be a “declaration of war” against them, too.

What's next?

It was not immediately clear on Sunday what ECOWAS would do next. Thousands of people at Sunday’s rally in Niger’s capital, Niamey, cheered the coup leaders’ appearance and expressed defiance against both the ECOWAS threat and France’s long presence in the region. Some waved Russian flags.

“We will all stand and fight as one people,” declared one of the junta leaders, Brig. Gen. Mohamed Toumba. “We are asking you to stay mobilized.”

Hours before Sunday’s deadline, hundreds of youth joined security forces in the darkened streets in the capital to stand guard at a dozen roundabouts until morning, checking cars for weapons and heeding the junta’s call to watch out for foreign intervention and spies.

“I’m here to support the military. We are against (the regional bloc). We will fight to the end. We do not agree with what France is doing against us. We are done with colonization,” said Ibrahim Nudirio, one of the residents on patrol. Some passing cars honked in support. Some people called for solidarity among African nations.

(With inputs from agency)

Also Read: Niger coup: Junta severs military ties with France, ousted 'hostage' leader seeks US intervention

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