W. African bloc to meet after Niger defies coup ultimatumMon, 07 Aug 2023 20:55:32 GMT

West African leaders will hold a summit on the crisis in Niger this week after the country’s military rulers defied an ultimatum to restore the elected government or face possible military intervention.In its first official reaction since Niger ignored the deadline of midnight (2300 GMT) on Sunday to reinstate democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum, the ECOWAS regional bloc said it would meet in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Thursday.”The ECOWAS leaders will be considering and discussing the political situation and recent developments in Niger during the summit,” the 15-nation bloc said on Monday.ECOWAS had issued its ultimatum at a previous summit in Abuja on July 30, warning it did not rule out the “use of force” in Niger.No foreign troops were visible on the streets of Niger’s capital, Niamey, after the deadline came and went on Sunday.A source close to ECOWAS said an immediate military intervention to restore Bazoum was not being envisaged at this stage.The United States said Monday it still saw a chance to end Niger’s coup diplomatically, after the military ignored the ECOWAS ultimatum to restore the elected government.”The window of opportunity is definitely still open. We believe that the junta should step aside and let President (Mohamed) Bazoum resume his duties,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.Mali, which neighbours Niger, said it and Burkina Faso — which have both been suspended from ECOWAS over their own military coups — were sending a joint official delegation to Niamey to show “solidarity (with) the people of Niger”.They have said military intervention would be tantamount to a declaration of war.Niger’s military leaders have closed the nation’s airspace and on Monday its skies were clear of traffic, according to the flight tracking website Flightradar24.Italy urged ECOWAS to extend the deadline and seek a diplomatic solution, with a similar call from Germany.”A solution must be found. It’s not set that there is no way other than war,” Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told La Stampa newspaper.- Constitutional order -Algeria, which shares a long land border with Niger, has also cautioned against a military solution, which President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said would be “a direct threat” to his North African country.Senators in regional heavyweight Nigeria urged everyone to focus on the “political and diplomatic option”.Just before the ultimatum expired on Sunday, Niger’s military rulers closed the Sahel country’s airspace and warned any attempt to enter it would meet with an “energetic and immediate response”.They said there had been a “pre-deployment in preparation for intervention” made by two Central African countries, without naming them, and warned: “Any state involved will be considered co-belligerent.”The UN Secretary-General’s representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Leonardo Santos Simao, is “currently in Abuja” for talks with “regional stakeholders”, according to a statement from the organisation.Earlier Monday, Niger’s military rulers urged an ECOWAS delegation to return for talks, Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou told French broadcaster TV5 Monde Monday, after an abortive first attempt.Mahamadou revealed in his interview that Bazoum — held since July 26 with his wife and son — was enduring deteriorating conditions.”The junta have asked the ECOWAS delegation to return” and its members “will be in Niamey probably today (Monday) or tomorrow”, Mahamadou said in an interview.An ECOWAS delegation had arrived in the capital Niamey last Thursday but did not stay overnight as scheduled. It did not meet either the toppled elected president Mohamed Bazoum or coup leader Abdourahamane Tiani.Former colonial power France, with which Niger’s new rulers have broken military ties, said it would “firmly” back whatever course of action ECOWAS took after the deadline expired.Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara called on Sunday on the coup leaders to stand down. “We condemn the attempted coup in Niger, which poses a serious threat to peace and security in the sub-region,” Ouattara said, adding it was “essential” to “constitutional order” that Bazoum be allowed to govern.The Niger coup was the latest of several to plague Africa’s Sahel belt since 2020.Niger has played a key part in Western strategies to combat jihadist insurgencies that have plagued the Sahel since 2012, with France and the United States stationing around 1,500 and 1,000 troops in the country, respectively.France has already evacuated hundreds of its citizens from Niger since the coup, and on Sunday, Italy’s defence ministry said it had flown 65 military personnel from Niger, along with 10 US military personnel.