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Soldiers in Niger claim president is ousted in coup


Soldiers in Niger announced Wednesday night that the West African nation’s president has been removed from power, hours after they barricaded President Mohamed Bazoum in the presidential palace.

Bazoum did not comment following the announcement by soldiers, who said in a brief appearance on television that the country’s institutions were suspended and its borders closed. Earlier in the day, Bazoum’s official Twitter account had put out a statement saying the president and his family were doing well.

If successful, this would mark the latest in a string of coups in Africa in recent years, following those in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Chad and Sudan, and could lead to further uncertainty in a West African region already grappling with spiraling violence from Islamist insurgencies. A vast West African nation of 25 million, Niger has been a key Western partner in the fight against the extremists, both in the Lake Chad region and near Niger’s borders with Mali and Burkina Faso.

The country, led by Bazoum since 2021, has also been an important ally for the West as the Russian mercenary group Wagner has targeted its neighbors in the region, including Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, where Wagner has already made substantial inroads, with at least 1,000 contractors operating there.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a news conference in New Zealand that he was monitoring developments in Niger “very closely.” He said he had spoken with Bazoum earlier in the morning “and made clear that the United States resolutely supports him as the democratically elected president, and we call for his immediate release.”

“We condemn any efforts to seize power by force,” Blinken said. “We’re actively engaged with the Niger government, but also with partners in the region and around the world and will continue to do so until the situation is resolved appropriately and peacefully.”

The country’s military and air force have received support and training from the United Sates, and Nigerien military officials have trained in the United States, including at the Air Force Academy in Colorado and at the Air War College in Alabama, according to a 2021 summary released by the U.S. Embassy in Niamey, Niger’s capital. About 800 U.S. troops at a time have been deployed to Niger, Pentagon officials have said, and the U.S. military operates drones from an air base in Agadez, in central Niger.

Molly Phee, a senior State Department official focused on the region, told reporters in March that Niger is “one of our most important partners on the continent in terms of security cooperation.”

Six years ago, Niger was the site of a horrifying attack on U.S. troops in which militants ambushed and then hunted down U.S. and Nigerien soldiers. Four American soldiers were killed near the western village of Tongo Tongo in an incident that raised questions about how well U.S. troops are supported in far-flung locations.

Niger has experienced four coups since its independence from France in 1960. Bazoum was elected in a peaceful, democratic election following two terms under Mahamadou Issoufou.

In the statement read on TV, the military officers said they removed Bazoum because of “the deteriorating security situation and bad governance.”

Earlier in the day, a tweet on Bazoum’s official page had blamed members of the President Guard for engaging in an “anti-Republican move” and trying to gain the support of the National Armed Forces and National Guard. By Wednesday evening, that tweet had been deleted.

Blinken underscored on Twitter that the partnership with Niger “depends on the continuation of democratic governance.” U.S. law prohibits military aid from going to governments that have seized power via coups.

Blinken said that it is for lawyers to determine whether the developments in Niger technically constitute a coup.

“But what it clearly constitutes is an effort to seize power by force and to disrupt the constitution,” he said, adding that he had been in conversation with counterparts in France and other allies about the situation, and that the U.S. Embassy in Niamey was monitoring the safety of U.S. citizens in the country.

Michael Birnbaum in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.


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