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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Niger Coup Is Backed by 2 Neighbors, Elevating Threat of Wider Battle

Two western African states mentioned that they might be a part of forces to defend Niger, the place troopers claimed to have seized energy in a coup final week, if a serious regional bloc carried by way of on a menace to intervene militarily until the ousted president is returned to workplace.

The joint assertion late Monday by the 2 states, Mali and Burkina Faso, was a stinging rebuke to the regional bloc, the Financial Group of West African States, or ECOWAS. On Sunday, the bloc vowed to take “all measures needed,” together with doable navy motion, to power the reinstatement of Niger’s president, Mohamed Bazoum.

Mali and Burkina Faso, themselves dominated by navy governments that took energy in coups, mentioned that any transfer towards Niger could be thought of a “declaration of struggle” towards their very own international locations.

The assertion additional raised the stakes in a spiraling disaster that has uncovered deep regional fissures and set off worldwide alarm over the route of a area the place a succession of governments have fallen to navy takeovers prior to now 4 years. It additionally raised the prospect that the disaster in Niger, the place about 2,600 American and French troops are stationed, might unfold right into a wider regional battle.

France mentioned on Tuesday that it might start evacuating French and European residents from Niger instantly, citing violent assaults by coup supporters towards its embassy on Sunday and the closure of Niger’s airspace.

“France’s solely precedence is the safety of our nationals,” Catherine Colonna, the French overseas minister, mentioned on French tv on Monday.

Italy mentioned on Tuesday it might arrange a particular flight to evacuate its residents, too.

Uncertainty persists over who is really cost in Niger, an impoverished nation of 25 million individuals that’s twice the scale of France.

Mr. Bazoum, who was detained by his personal guards on Wednesday, is being held in his non-public residence close to the presidential palace within the capital, Niamey. However he can obtain guests — a photograph posted to social media on Sunday confirmed a smiling Mr. Bazoum sitting with the visiting president of Chad, Mahamat Déby, a mediator within the disaster — and he takes telephone calls from world leaders and his personal officers.

Niger’s ambassador to Britain and France, Aïchatou Boulama Kané, instructed the BBC on Tuesday that she had spoken to Mr. Bazoum and that he was doing effectively. “His morale is excessive,” she mentioned. The ambassador mentioned that she was talking on behalf of the deposed president and never for Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, the junta chief who now claims to be working the nation.

The disaster is a stiff take a look at for ECOWAS and its head, the just lately elected president of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu. The group had already suspended Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea over navy coups in these international locations since 2020. The powerful assertion on Sunday signaled that the bloc was prepared to maneuver militarily if needed, regardless of a checkered document of interventions in regional conflicts.

ECOWAS set a deadline of subsequent Sunday for Mr. Bazoum’s reinstatement. For now, although, it hopes to fight the coup try by way of an financial blockade of landlocked Niger, which relies upon closely on its neighbors for commerce and monetary stability. The measures introduced on Sunday included a slate of punishing sanctions towards the coup leaders, as effectively the suspension of all commerce and monetary transfers between its member states and Niger. The bloc has additionally frozen Niger’s property in regional banks.

Guinea, which has been dominated by a navy junta since 2021, mentioned it might not take part sanctions towards Niger, however made no point out of doable navy motion.

However the junta leaders have discovered highly effective help of their fellow navy leaders of Mali and Burkina Faso. Each international locations have skilled two coups since 2020 and have ties of various levels to Russia. The junta in Mali expelled 5,000 French troops and introduced in 1,500 mercenaries with Wagner, the Kremlin-backed non-public navy firm, which has since been accused of main massacres through which lots of of civilians have been killed.

Burkina Faso has moved nearer to Russia in latest months. Its chief, Capt. Ibrahim Traoré, issued considerable reward of Russia throughout a gathering with President Vladimir V. Putin at a Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg final week.

France’s evacuation from Niger, supposed to begin on Tuesday, is the newest in a succession of blows to French energy and status in western and central Africa, a area it dominated for many years after the tip of colonialism within the Sixties. In recent times, France has been compelled to withdraw its troops from Mali and from Burkina Faso, the place that they had been serving to to struggle a surge in Islamist militancy.

Even in international locations with out an insurgency, like Senegal, demonstrators have focused symbols of French financial or political would possibly, like diplomatic buildings or French-owned fuel stations and supermarkets.

In Niger on Sunday, lots of of protesters flung stones and Molotov cocktails over the French Embassy’s wall, Ms. Colonna mentioned. The tumult echoed earlier assaults on the French Embassy in Burkina Faso in September after the newest coup in that nation.

Niger has one of many world’s greatest reserves of uranium and is a vital a part of Europe’s vitality system.

The largest mines in a distant desert space within the nation’s northwest are operated by corporations from France, which found uranium in Niger in 1957 throughout a colonial-era expedition to prospect for copper. Canadian, Chinese language and South Korean corporations, amongst others, even have mining stakes there now.

Curiosity in Niger’s uranium intensified final 12 months as European nations seemed to wean themselves from dependency on vitality provides from Russia. Niger was the second-biggest provider of uranium to the European Union in 2022, based on Euratom, the continent’s nuclear company.

The French vitality firm Orano, which has operations in Niger, mentioned in an announcement posted on its web site that it had “stepped up its vigilance” to guard the security of its staff and websites within the nation.

Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting from Paris.

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