Niger president vows to protect democratic gains after coup

11 months ago 15

Niger’s president, Mohamed Bazoum, has vowed to protect “hard-won” democratic gains after a group of military officers announced they had deposed him in a coup.

With reports suggesting Bazoum was being held by the coup plotters, who had earlier announced the suspension of state institutions and the closure of Niger’s borders, Bazoum posted on Twitter: “The hard-won gains will be safeguarded, and all Nigeriens who love democracy and freedom will see to it.”

The foreign minister, Hassoumi Massoudou, issued a rallying cry on Twitter for “all democrats and patriots” to thwart the coup. Massoudou said the “legal and legitimate power” was the one exercised by the elected president, emphasising that while there had been “coup bid … the whole of the army was not involved”.

“We ask all the fractious soldiers to return to their ranks,” he said. “Everything can be achieved through dialogue but the institutions of the republic must function.”

It was unclear how much of Niger the coup plotters controlled and how much support they enjoyed in other parts of the armed forces. In a late-night address on national television on Wednesday, soldiers announced that Bazoum had been removed from power and all institutions of the republic suspended, in the seventh coup in west and central Africa since 2020.

Niger colonel announces military coup on national TV – video

The move against Bazoum was widely condemned internationally, including by the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, who said he had spoken to Bazoum. “I conveyed our support for the democratically elected president of Niger. The US condemns efforts to subvert Niger’s constitutional order by force, and underscores that our partnership depends on the continuation of democratic governance,” Blinken said on Twitter.

The African Union and the west African bloc Ecowas condemned the coup d’etat, while the UN secretary general, António Guterres, urged respect for Niger’s constitution.

Nigeria’s president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, said his Beninese counterpart, Patrice Talon, was travelling to Niger on a mediation mission. “He is going there now, he is on his way,” Tinubu, who is also the chair of Ecowas, said after meeting Talon in Abuja.

Niger is a key ally of France and the US in the war against jihadist groups in the Sahel region. The country’s role has grown since relations with Burkina Faso and Mali’s military governments soured, prompting foreign troop withdrawals.

In May, Bazoum complained that his government had been the target of a disinformation campaign by Russia’s Wagner group, which has been a destabilising influence elsewhere in the region.

On Thursday morning, the capital, Niamey, was reportedly quiet as citizens awoke to closed borders and a nationwide curfew imposed by the military.

A street scene in Niamey
A street scene in Niamey on Thursday, a day after the coup announcement. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Several Bazoum supporters had gathered in the city as events were unfolding on Wednesday, voicing their opposition to a change of power, a Reuters reporter said. They were later dispersed.

The presidential guard, which first moved against Bazoum, is headed by Gen Omar Tchiani, but the televised statement was read by a member of the air force, Col Amadou Abdramane.

Seated in an office rather than a television studio and flanked by nine officers in fatigues, Abdramane said defence and security forces had acted in response to deteriorating security and bad governance.

The landlocked state with its rapidly increasing population is one of the poorest and most unstable countries in the world. It has had four coups since gaining independence from France in 1960, as well as numerous attempts, including two previously against Bazoum.

Bazoum, 63, is one of a dwindling group of pro-western leaders in the Sahel, where a rampaging jihadist insurgency has caused coups against elected presidents in Mali and Burkina Faso. Their juntas, taking a nationalist stance, have forced out French troops, and in the case of Mali have woven a close alliance with Russia.

Agencies contributed to this report

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