30 July 2023

Niger’s French embassy attacked as pro-Russia protesters march through capital

30 July 2023

Niger’s French embassy has been attacked as protesters marched through the capital in support of the recent military coup in the country.

Thousands of supporters of the junta that took over Niger this week marched through Niamey, denounced the country’s former colonial power and set a door at the French embassy on fire before the army broke up the crowd.

Black smoke could be seen across the city from the burning of the door, which was captured on video by The Associated Press.

The Russian mercenary group Wagner is operating in neighboring Mali, and President Vladimir Putin would like to expand his country’s influence in the region.

The new junta’s leaders have not said whether they would move towards Moscow or stick with Niger’s Western partners.

French President Emmanuel Macron said attacks on France and its interests would not be tolerated. Anyone who attacked French nationals, the army, diplomats and French authorities would see an immediate response, he said.

Niger, a French colony until 1960, had been seen as the West’s last reliable partner battling jihadists in Africa’s Sahel region. France has 1,500 soldiers in the country who conduct joint operations with the Nigeriens. The United States and other European countries have helped train the nation’s troops.

At an emergency meeting on Sunday in Abuja, Nigeria, the West African bloc known as ECOWAS said it was suspending relations with Niger, and authorised the use of force if President Mohamed Bazoum is not reinstated within a week.

The African Union has issued a 15-day ultimatum to the junta in Niger to reinstall the democratically elected government.

Mr Bazoum was democratically elected two years ago in Niger’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence from France in 1960.

Members of the Niger military announced on Wednesday they had deposed Mr Bazoum and on Friday named general Abdourahmane Tchiani as the country’s new leader, adding Niger to a growing list of military regimes in West Africa’s Sahel region.

Some leaders of the mutiny said they overthrew Mr Bazoum because he was not able to protect the nation from growing jihadi violence. But some analysts and Nigeriens say that was a pretext for a takeover driven by internal power struggles.

“We couldn’t expect a coup in Niger because there’s no social, political or security situation that would justify that the military take the power,” Professor Amad Hassane Boubacar, who teaches at the University of Niamey, told The Associated Press.

He said Mr Bazoum wanted to replace the head of the presidential guard, general Abdourahamane Tchiani, who also goes by Omar.

Niger’s dire security situation is not as bad as that in neighbouring Burkina Faso or Mali, which have also been battling an Islamic insurgency linked to al Qaida and the Islamic State group.

Last year, Niger was the only one of the three to see a decline in violence, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Some taking part in Sunday’s rally warned outside bodies to stay away.

“I would like also to say to the European Union, African Union and ECOWAS, please, please stay out of our business,” Oumar Barou Moussa said at the demonstration. “It’s time for us to take our lives, to work for ourselves. It’s time for us to talk about our freedom and liberty.”

Niger has the most at stake of any country in the Sahel if it turns away from the West, given the millions of dollars of military assistance it has received from abroad.

On Saturday, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said the continued security and economic co-operation with the US hinges on the release of Mr Bazoum — who remains under house arrest — and “the immediate restoration of the democratic order in Niger”.

Mr Macron said he had spoken to Mr Bazoum and his predecessor on Sunday. On Saturday France suspended all development and financial aid to Niger.

The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc has unsuccessfully tried to restore democracies in nations where the military took power in recent years. Four nations are run by military regimes in West and Central Africa, where there have been nine successful or attempted coups since 2020.

If ECOWAS imposes economic sanctions on Niger, which is what normally happens during coups, it could have a deep impact on Nigeriens, who live in the third-poorest country in the world, according to the latest UN data.

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