Niger Rally Supports Coup as Bloc Imposes Sanctions on Junta

West African leaders said they’re ready to use force to restore democracy in Niger if necessary, as a massive rally in support of coup leaders marched on the French Embassy in the country.

(Bloomberg) —

West African leaders said they’re ready to use force to restore democracy in Niger if necessary, as a massive rally in support of coup leaders marched on the French Embassy in the country. 

The Economic Community of West African States on Sunday imposed far-reaching economic and diplomatic sanctions on Niger and gave the military leadership one week to reinstate deposed President Mohamed Bazoum.

Earlier, thousands of people backing the junta gathered outside the embassy in Niger’s capital, Niamey, and a door was lit on fire, the Associated Press reported, citing videos and a person who was on site. France, the former colonial power in Niger, said it will retaliate if any of its citizens are attacked, according to a statement from the Elysee.

Meanwhile, Ecowas — a 15-member coalition — closed air and land borders with Niger, froze the country’s assets at the regional central bank and state assets in commercial banks, among other measures. The junta warned the bloc not to intervene militarily to reinstate Bazoum.

“We want to once more remind Ecowas or any other adventurer, of our firm determination to defend our homeland,” Colonel Amadou Abdramane, spokesman for the junta that calls itself the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland, said on state TV on Saturday night.

Aid in Jeopardy

General Abdourahamane Tiani declared himself the country’s new leader on Friday, two days after the presidential guard he leads detained Bazoum. The coup sparked international condemnation, and on Saturday the European Union and France said they had halted aid to the country, one of the world’s poorest. 

Niger has long been a key ally to the EU and the US in the global fight against jihadists in the region. It receives receives nearly $2 billion in annual development aid, according to the World Bank.

France, which has 1,500 troops stationed in Niger, said it had suspended aid that amounted to €120 million ($132 million) last year. The EU, which has committed €503 million in development aid from 2021-2024, announced “the immediate cessation of budget support” and security cooperation, its top diplomat Josep Borrell said in a statement.

US security and development assistance was also “in jeopardy,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a press conference on Saturday.

Read more: What’s Driving Coups in Niger and Across West Africa?: QuickTake

Niger has been considered a reliable partner to the West in Africa’s Sahel region, which has experienced persistent political and economic instability. France and the US maintain bases in the country as part of international efforts to fight jihadists, while the EU sees it as an ally in its efforts to tackle illegal immigration from Africa.

The coup in Niger creates a belt of military-run countries that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, many of which are less friendly with the West than they are with Russia, which has made inroads in the region in recent years partly through the Wagner Group.

Protesters in Niamey carried French flags tipped on the side so the blue-white-red lines became vertical, resembling the Russian flag.  They denounced France, the US and the African Union, while calling for Russian backing. 

On Sunday, Chad’s military ruler, Interim President Mahamat Deby Itno, was in Niamey to help resolve the crisis, AFP reported. 

–With assistance from Angelina Rascouet.

(Updates with details of sanctions, rally from first paragraph.)

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