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  4. West African leaders to convene in Nigerian capital on Thursday after Niger coup leaders defy deadline

West African leaders to convene in Nigerian capital on Thursday after Niger coup leaders defy deadline

The 15-member regional bloc in West Africa, known as ECOWAS, had set a week's deadline for the Niger military junta to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee Abuja Published on: August 07, 2023 23:51 IST
Many people have supported Niger's military junta, with
Image Source : AP Many people have supported Niger's military junta, with some waving Russian flags during anti-France protests.

The leaders of the West African regional bloc, known as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), will meet on Thursday in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, to discuss steps to be taken after the Niger military, who overthrew the government in a coup, defied a deadline to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. The meeting will be held in Abuja, said an ECOWAS spokesperson.

The ECOWAS had demanded coup leaders to release and reinstate Bazoum within a week or face possible force. A delegation of the ECOWAS arrived for talks last week, but were unable to meet the coup leader Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani or go to the capital Niamey.

Senegal and Ivory Coast supported the regional bloc's effort to restore constitutional order in Niger, even as Nigeria’s Senate has pushed back against the plan urging Nigeria’s president to explore options other than the use of force.  

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.

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. However, there were no signs of military forces on Monday at Niger's border with Nigeria, the likely entry point.

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. 

Niger also 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."

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. Now the junta has reached out to Wagner for assistance while severing security ties with former colonizer France.

Niger's military junta is enjoying popular support as thousands of protesters took to the streets against France and the West African bloc, with some waving Russian flags.

Meanwhile, Niger's coup can lead to American assistance being cutoff, particularly military support, if the United States determines that a democratically-elected government has been toppled by undemocratic means.

The US administration is still weighing whether the developments amount to a coup, said two officials, adding that there was still time for Niger's military leaders to reverse course.

On the other hand, France's Foreign Ministry has discouraged travel to Niger, Burkina Faso or Mali, and called on French nationals to be extremely vigilant. France still has 1,500 military personnel in Niger for counterterrorism efforts.

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

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