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Niger army general declares himself country’s new leader

The Niger general who staged a coup on Friday declared himself the new leader of the jihadist-hit African nation and warned that any foreign military intervention would lead to chaos.

General Abdourahamane Tchiani, head of the Presidential Guard since 2011, appeared on state television, saying he was the “president of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland”.

The general, who is in his 50s and had previously kept out of public life, presented the coup as a response to “the degradation of the security situation” linked to jihadist bloodshed.

He questioned “the sense and scope of a security approach to the fight against terrorism which excludes any real collaboration with Burkina Faso and Mali” — neighbours which face similar threats.

But the putschists, who have faced international condemnation for taking power from a democratically elected president, also warned of “the consequences that will flow from any foreign military intervention”.

On the third day since President Mohamed Bazoum was detained, former colonial master France demanded the restoration of the government, saying it “does not recognise” the putschists, and calling Bazoum the “sole president”.

The UN Security Council said in a statement late Friday that it “condemned the efforts to unconstitutionally change the legitimate government” in the country.

And US Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered Bazoum Washington’s “unflagging” support and warned those detaining him that “hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance” was at risk, according to the State Department.

“Secretary Blinken underscored that the United States will continue to work to ensure the full restoration of constitutional order and democratic rule in Niger,” department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Washington had previously warned it may “cease security and other cooperation”, although its approximately 1,000 troops stationed in the country will stay in place for now.

West African leaders will meet Sunday in the Nigerian capital Abuja to discuss the coup, President Bola Tinubu said.

“ECOWAS and the international community would do everything to defend democracy and ensure democratic governance continues to take firm root in the region,” Tinubu, who is also the chairman of the Economic Community of West African States regional bloc, said in a statement.

The European Union threatened to cut aid to Niamey after what it said was a “serious attack on stability and democracy”.

Meanwhile, two deputy directors of Bazoum’s cabinet, Daouda Takoubakoye and Oumar Moussa, also hit back, calling Tchiani’s statement “lies” and accusing the general and the Presidential Guard of having staged the coup for “personal gains”.

Sources close to Bazoum said the deposed leader had been considering replacing Tchiani after their relations soured, a decision which had been due to be made at a cabinet meeting on July 24.

Bazoum and his family have been confined since Wednesday morning to their residence at the presidential palace located within the 700-strong Presidential Guard’s military camp.

He is said to be in good health and has been able to talk by telephone to other heads of state.

– ‘Risk’ to human rights –

The Guard chiefs who staged the coup had won broad army support by Thursday.

Armed forces chief General Abdou Sidikou Issa swung his weight behind the putsch, saying it had occurred “in order to avoid a deadly confrontation”.

The latest target of a coup in Africa’s turbulent Sahel, Bazoum has tried to stand his ground.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna had seemed to hold out hope that he was not done yet.

“If you hear me talking about an attempted coup, it’s because we don’t consider things final,” she said. “There is still a way out if those responsible listen to the international community.”

France, which has 1,500 soldiers in Niger, would support sanctions, she added.

French President Emmanuel Macron will chair a defence meeting on the coup on Saturday, the presidency said.

“This coup is completely illegitimate and profoundly dangerous, for Nigeriens, for Niger and for the whole region,” Macron said during a visit to Papua New Guinea on Friday, while also calling for Bazoum’s release and “the restoration of constitutional order”.

– Pro-coup demonstrations –

Landlocked Niger is one of the world’s poorest nations.

Since gaining independence in 1960, it has seen four coups as well as numerous other attempts — including two previously against Bazoum.

The 63-year-old is one of a dwindling group of elected presidents and pro-Western leaders in the Sahel, where a jihadist insurgency has triggered coups in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Their juntas have forced out French troops, and Mali’s ruling military has woven a close alliance with Russia.

“What happened in Niger is nothing more than the struggle of the people of Niger against colonisers, who tried to impose their own rules of life,” the boss of Russia’s Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Thursday in a message shared by a body linked to the mercenary organisation.

Bazoum took office after elections two years ago, in Niger’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence.

The country of 26 million people is two-thirds desert and frequently ranks at the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index.

 

 

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