Pics News

Soldiers Detain Niger’s President, Stoking Fears of a Coup


Soldiers from the presidential guard in the West African nation of Niger barricaded the president in his palace in an apparent mutiny on Wednesday, according to the president’s office and the regional bloc of neighboring states.

The country’s president, Mohamed Bazoum, was being held hostage with his wife at his residence in the palace in the capital, Niamey, after negotiations with the head of the presidential guard stalled, an aide said on Wednesday night, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns.

The standoff raised fears of a coup in a region that has lately been jolted by many.

Niger, a vast and landlocked country in the stretch of Africa known as the Sahel, has experienced four military coups since independence from France in 1960 — most recently in 2010. Militant groups linked to both Al Qaeda and Islamic State operate there.

Mr. Bazoum was elected in 2021 in Niger’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power. He has been one of the West’s most reliable partners in a volatile region filled with aging presidents clinging to power and young military officers who have seized control by force.

The leaders of neighboring Mali and nearby Central African Republic have turned to Russia’s Wagner private military company for protection. But Mr. Bazoum stuck with the former colonial power, France, and the United States, which has 800 troops in Niger as well as two drone bases in its northern desert.

The office of the Nigerien presidency said on Twitter, in a post that is no longer visible, “Early this Wednesday morning, elements of the Presidential Guard engaged in an anti-Republican move and tried in vain to obtain the support of the National Armed Forces and the National Guard.”

It added that the military was standing ready to “attack the elements” behind the mutiny if they did not relent.

The president of neighboring Benin, Patrice Talon, announced that he was going to Niger in an effort to mediate a peaceful end to the crisis. The United States, the United Nations, the European Union and regional bodies called on the mutinying soldiers to stand down.

By late Wednesday, much of central Niamey was deserted. Soldiers guarded the entrance to the national television station. About 20 members of the presidential guard stood before the palace gates.

Several hundred people mounted a protest outside the national parliament to demand the release of their president. “Free Bazoum!” they cried before marching toward the presidential palace.

But soon after, bursts of gunfire were heard coming from the palace. Reporters said they appeared to have been fired by the presidential guard seeking to disperse the protesters. A reporter for France’s TV5 station posted video of people fleeing the gunfire.

In a statement, ECOWAS, the regional body of countries, condemned what it called the “attempted coup” and called on the “coup plotters” to release Mr. Bazoum without condition.

It raised the prospect that Niger was in the throes of West Africa’s sixth coup since 2020, following earlier military-led ousters in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali.

A coup also took place in the northeastern nation of Sudan in November 2021, laying the ground for the catastrophic conflict between rival military factions that erupted in April this year.

Niger has held strategic importance for France, the former colonizer that has faced rising discontent from neighboring countries of Niger in recent years. France withdrew troops from Mali and Burkina Faso, after relationships with military juntas there soured.

Last year, the European Union pledged to provide $1.3 billion to shift Niger’s economy away from oil. During a visit to the country in March, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced $150 million in humanitarian assistance to Niger and neighboring countries.

In statement, the State Department said it was “gravely concerned” about events in Niger and condemned “any effort to seize power by force and disrupt the constitutional order.” It made a call for Mr. Bazoum’s immediate release that was repeated by Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser at the White House, who called Niger “a critical partner for the United States.”

Ulf Laessing, the head of the Sahel program at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, noted in an interview on Wednesday that Niamey was calm when he traveled there last week.

But he said that Mr. Bazoum may have faced growing discontent from parts of the military that have not received funding from Western partners. He added that many Nigeriens, especially in Niamey, are suffering hardship amid factors including a rising cost of living.

Lynsey Chutel contributed reporting from Johannesburg and Eric Schmitt from Washington.


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button