Wednesday, 17 Jul 2024

Military in Niger Announces Coup After Soldiers Detain President

Military officers in the West African nation of Niger ousted the country’s president on Wednesday, they said in an address on national television, throwing into uncertainty the future of one of the West’s few reliable partners in a region marred by coups and widespread insecurity.

Army officials representing different branches of Niger’s military, which has received support from the United States and France, among others, said they had “put an end to the regime” of President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger, following a day of stalled negotiations where members of the presidential guard held him hostage in the presidential palace.

The officers removed Mr. Bazoum “due to the deteriorating security situation and bad governance,” Col. Amadou Abdramane, an official of the Nigerien air force, said in a statement read on television. The statement also said the officers were closing the country’s borders.

The announcement, late on Wednesday night, could further upend the power balance in West Africa, a volatile region with countries led by aging presidents clinging to power and young military officers who seized control by force.

Niger, a vast and landlocked country in the stretch of Africa known as the Sahel, has been a favored partner of the West, as neighboring countries faced coups. Niger and other countries in the region have been plagued by Islamist insurgencies in the past few years.

The United States has 800 troops in Niger and two drone bases in its northern desert. France, a former colonial power in the region, deployed additional troops to Niger in the past year after its relations with military juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso soured.

Mr. Bazoum was being held hostage with his wife at his residence in the palace in the capital, Niamey, as of Wednesday night, according to an aide.

“It’s over. It’s a coup,” the aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns.

The dramatic developments capped a day of uncertainty that began with members of the presidential guard detaining Mr. Bazoum.

Until late on Wednesday night, it was unclear who was supporting the mutineers.

Among the military officials gathered around Colonel Abdramane were the deputy head of staff of the military, and senior members of the national and presidential guard. Colonel Abdramane said the coup leaders would preserve Mr. Bazoum’s safety.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in New Zealand, called on Thursday for his immediate release.

Niger has experienced four military coups since independence from France in 1960. Mr. Bazoum was elected in 2021 in Niger’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence. As the leaders of neighboring Mali and nearby Central African Republic have turned to Russia’s Wagner private military company for protection, Mr. Bazoum stuck with France and the United States, which have long carried out sensitive operations in Niger.

The office of the Nigerien presidency had said on Twitter on Wednesday, in a post that is no longer visible, that “elements of the Presidential Guard engaged in an anti-Republican move and tried in vain to obtain the support of the National Armed Forces and the National Guard.”

It added that the military was standing ready to “attack the elements” behind the mutiny if they did not relent. But the military didn’t attack.

The president of neighboring Benin, Patrice Talon, announced earlier on Wednesday that he was going to Niger in an effort to mediate a peaceful end to the crisis. The United States, the United Nations, the European Union and regional bodies called on the mutinying soldiers to stand down.

By late Wednesday, much of central Niamey was deserted. Several hundred people had mounted a protest outside the national Parliament earlier in the day to demand the release of their president. “Free Bazoum!” they cried, before marching toward the presidential palace.

Soon after, bursts of gunfire were heard coming from the palace. Reporters said they appeared to have been fired by the presidential guard seeking to disperse the protesters. A reporter for France’s TV5 station posted video of people fleeing the gunfire.

In a statement, ECOWAS, the regional body of countries, condemned what it called the “attempted coup” and called on the “coup plotters” to release Mr. Bazoum without condition.

The crisis will be a major test for ECOWAS’ new leader, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Nigeria, who took the helm of the body’s rotating presidency less than two weeks ago and vowed to show no tolerance for coups in the region.

A military takeover in Niger would be West Africa’s sixth coup since 2020, following earlier military coups in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali.

A coup also took place in the northeastern nation of Sudan in November 2021, laying the ground for the catastrophic conflict between rival military factions that erupted in April this year.

The European Union has long seen Niger as a major partner in the effort to curb illegal immigration from Africa. Last year, the bloc pledged to provide $1.3 billion to shift Niger’s economy away from oil. It has also invested tens of millions of dollars in its education system — Niger has one of the world’s highest birthrates. During a visit to the country in March, Mr. Blinken also announced $150 million in humanitarian assistance to Niger and neighboring countries.

Ulf Laessing, the head of the Sahel program at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, who traveled to Niamey last week, said in an interview on Wednesday that Mr. Bazoum may have faced growing discontent from parts of the military that have not received funding from Western partners.

In statement released before the Nigerien military officers announced they had removed Mr. Bazoum, the State Department condemned “any effort to seize power by force and disrupt the constitutional order.” Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser at the White House, echoed calls to release Mr. Bazoum and called Niger “a critical partner for the United States.”

Lynsey Chutel contributed reporting from Johannesburg, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

Elian Peltier is the West Africa correspondent. He joined The Times in 2017 and was previously based in Paris and London. He now lives in Dakar, Senegal. More about Elian Peltier

Declan Walsh is the chief Africa correspondent for The Times. He was previously based in Egypt, covering the Middle East, and in Pakistan. He previously worked at The Guardian and is the author of “The Nine Lives of Pakistan.” More about Declan Walsh

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