Nigerian president calls for ‘amicable resolution’ of Niger crisisThu, 03 Aug 2023 22:36:14 GMT

Nigeria’s president on Thursday told delegations from a West African bloc to do “whatever it takes” to reach an “amicable resolution” in Niger, as they embarked on talks in Niamey and the region to resolve the standoff following last week’s coup.Regional bloc ECOWAS on Sunday gave the junta a week to reinstate democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum, who was toppled by his guard on July 26, or risk a possible military intervention.West African military chiefs were meeting in Nigeria’s capital Abuja to discuss the possibility of a military intervention if diplomacy fails.ECOWAS has already imposed trade and financial sanctions after the putsch, the latest to hit the Sahel region since 2020.Nigerian President Bola Tinubu told two delegations representing the bloc to do “whatever it takes to ensure a conclusive and amicable resolution of the situation in Niger”, according to his office.One delegation, headed by ex-Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar, arrived in the capital Niamey on Thursday, according to an airport source, and were due to later meet the junta leaders.The other was due to hold talks with leaders of Algeria and Libya.French media companies France 24 and RFI said their broadcasts had been blocked inside Niger, denouncing the “decision made outside any legal or conventional framework”.Their signals were cut “on the instructions of the new military authorities”, a senior official told AFP on condition of anonymity.- Nationwide protests -Across Niger on Thursday, thousands of people rallied to back the coup leaders on the anniversary of the country’s 1960 independence from France, with some brandishing giant Russian flags and chanting anti-French slogans.A crowd in Niamey shouted “Down with France”, “Long live Russia, long live (Vladimir) Putin”.Protester Issiaka Hamadou said it was “only security that interests us”, irrespective of whether it came from “Russia, China, Turkey, if they want to help us”.”We just don’t want the French, who have been looting us since 1960 — they’ve been there ever since and nothing has changed,” he said. Several thousand people also took to the streets of other cities including Agadez in the north and Filingue, where junta head General Abdourahamane Tiani is from.Niger has had a key role in Western strategies to combat a jihadist insurgency that has plagued the Sahel since 2012, with France and the United States stationing around 1,500 and 1,000 troops in the country, respectively.Niger’s ambassador to Washington, Kiari Liman-Tinguiri, warned in an interview with AFP on Thursday that “If Niger collapses, the entire Sahel will collapse, will be destabilised.””With this destabilisation, there won’t be any way to protect coastal African countries, countries on the West coast, and you will have Wagner and the jihadists control Africa from the coast to the Mediterranean,” Liman-Tinguiri said.- ‘One coup too many’ -Senegal said Thursday it would send soldiers to join ECOWAS if it decided to intervene militarily in Niger.”It is one coup too many,” said Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall.Niger is the fourth member of the bloc to undergo a putsch since 2020.Bazoum has been held by the coup plotters with his family since July 26, prompting US President Joe Biden to call for his immediate release, urging the “preservation of Niger’s hard-earned democracy”.Britain and the United States have announced the pulling back of embassy personnel in Niger as a precaution. France said on Thursday that it has evacuated 1,079 people from the country, more than half of them French nationals.The United States has chartered a plane to evacuate non-essential personnel and American citizens wishing to leave the country, the State Department said.Nigeria, West Africa’s pre-eminent military and economic power, is the current ECOWAS chair and has vowed a firm line against coups. Junta-ruled Mali and Burkina Faso, however, have warned any military intervention in their neighbour would be tantamount to a “declaration of war” against them.Anti-French sentiment in the region has continued to rise, while Russian activity, often via the Wagner mercenary group, has grown.- ‘Refuse to give in’ -Bazoum, 63, was feted in 2021 after winning elections that ushered in Niger’s first-ever peaceful transition of power.He took the helm of a country burdened by four previous coups since independence and survived two attempted putsches before his ouster.Tiani has declared himself leader, but his claim has been condemned internationally.In a televised address Wednesday, Tiani rejected the international sanctions imposed and said he “refused to give in to any threat”. France refocused its anti-jihadist mission in Niger after pulling out of Mali and Burkina Faso last year.After joining a regional revolt in northern Mali, armed Islamists advanced into Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015 and now carry out sporadic attacks on fragile states on the Gulf of Guinea.The impact has contributed to army takeovers in all three Sahel countries and devastated some of the world’s poorest economies.