Niger’s junta has said it would respond immediately to any “aggression or attempted aggression” against it by West African countries, three days before the expiry of an ultimatum to restore order given by the regional bloc.
“Any aggression or attempted aggression against the State of Niger will see an immediate and unannounced response from the Niger Defence and Security Forces on one of (the bloc’s) members, with the exception of suspended friendly countries,” one of the putschists said in a statement read on national television on Thursday, alluding to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali.
ECOWAS has threatened the potential use of force if the junta does not restore ousted President Mohamed Bazoum by Sunday, and military chiefs of the bloc’s member countries met in Nigeria on Wednesday for three days of consultations.
The landlocked nation is the fourth member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) hit by a putsch since 2020.
Military pacts with France scrapped
The junta also announced on Thursday it was scrapping military pacts made between Niamey and Paris.
Blaming France’s “careless attitude and its reaction to the situation”, it said it had “decided to scrap the cooperation agreements in the field of security and defence with this state”.
France has between 1,000 and 1,500 troops in Niger, helping to fight a militant insurgency that has spread across the region.
Termination of ambassadors’ mandates
Separately the military said that it was ending the mandates of ambassadors to four countries as it faces international pressure to restore the democratically elected leader it ousted last week.
“The functions of the extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassadors of the Republic of Niger” to France, Nigeria, Togo and the United States “are terminated”, it said.
Niger’s UN ambassador calls for international help
Niamey’s ambassador to Washington said Niger’s junta must “come to reason” and return power to ousted President Mohamed Bazoum before the country and the wider region collapse.
“If Niger collapses, the entire Sahel will collapse, will be destabilised,” Ambassador Kiari Liman-Tinguiri told AFP news agency in an interview on Niger’s independence day, as the future of Western economic and security aid hangs in the balance for the landlocked West African country facing multiple conflicts with violent extremists.
“The junta should come to reason, realise that this affair cannot succeed, and prevent useless, inevitable suffering for our people and hand back power,” said Liman-Tinguiri, who remains a recognised diplomat in Washington and considers himself a representative of the “legitimate” President Bazoum, detained by his guards since late last month.
Hundreds rally in support of junta
International pressure mounted on the junta as the American secretary of state said the United States “stands very much” in support of West African leaders who have threatened to use force to restore the nation’s democracy, and Senegal offered troops to help.
Hundreds of people joined a protest organised by the junta and civil society groups on Niger’s independence day; protesters pumped their fists in the air and chanted support for neighbouring countries that have also seen military takeovers in recent years.
“For more than 13 years, the Nigerien people have suffered injustices,” protester Moctar Abdou Issa said. The junta “will get us out of this, God willing … they will free the Nigerien people.”
“We’re sick of the French,” he added.
It remains unclear whether a majority of the population supports the coup, and in many parts of the capital, people went about their lives on Thursday as normal.
Nigerian president calls for ‘amicable resolution’ of Niger crisis
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 was due to later meet the junta leaders.
The other was due to hold talks with leaders of Algeria and Libya.