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Thousands rally in support of Niger military coup

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Demonstrators took to the streets of Niger’s capital Niamey on Thursday in a show of support for the country’s new leadership, a week after a military coup in the West African country.

People rallied on the streets of Niamey to signal their support for de facto president Abdourahmane Tchiani and his junta, a dpa correspondent in the capital reported.

The demonstrations followed a call by civil society associations, according to reports.

They came on the 63rd anniversary of Niger gaining independence from former colonial power France.

According to local media, people also demonstrated in the city of Agadez, with posters seen expressing support for the putschists. Russian flags are also said to have been waived.

Agadez is on the edge of the Sahara Desert, which many migrants pass through on their way to Libya and towards the Mediterranean.

The coup plotters managed to ignite a “nationalistic fire” in the population within a week, said Olaf Bernau from the migration network Afrique-Europe-Interact.

Part of the reason for this is the EU’s migration strategy in Niger.

For several years, Niger, as an important transit country for migrants heading for Europe, has received financial support to limit migration. Since 2015, a law in Niger has criminalized illegal migration and its support.

So far, Niger has not only been an important partner for the West in containing migration but also in the fight against terrorism.

In the Sahel, dozens of militias, some of whom have sworn allegiance to the so-called Islamic State (IS) or the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, regularly carry out attacks.

Last week, officers of the presidential guard in Niger arrested the democratically-elected president of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, and declared him deposed.

Tchiani, the commander of the presidential guard, appointed himself the new ruler on Friday, suspended the constitution, and dissolved all constitutional institutions.

Bazoum used an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Thursday to call for the international world to help restore constitutional order.

He was writing “as a hostage” and was “just one of hundreds of citizens who have been arbitrarily and illegally imprisoned,” Bazoum said in the piece.

The coup had no justification and, if it succeeded, would have “devastating consequences for our country, our region, and the entire world,” Bazoum wrote.

He used the piece to call on the US government and “the entire international community” to help restore order.

“Fighting for our shared values, including democratic pluralism and respect for the rule of law, is the only way to make sustainable progress against poverty and terrorism. The Nigerien people will never forget your support at this pivotal moment in our history,” he wrote.

Niger’s new rulers are looking for allies. The deputy head of the country’s military junta, General Salifou Modi, travelled to the neighbouring countries of Mali and Burkina Faso, which are also ruled by army officers who took power in military coups.

Both have pledged their support to Niger, Modi said, particularly in the area of security.

“We are happy about the closeness we have with our brothers in Mali,” the deputy head of Niger’s military junta, General Salifou Modi, said after a meeting with the government in the Malian capital Bamako on Wednesday.

Burkina Faso’s military strongman Ibrahima Traoré also assured him of his support at a meeting in the capital Ouagadougou on Wednesday, Modi said.

Pressure continues to mount on Niger, with Nigeria suspending electricity supplies and the World Bank freezing payments to the West African nation on Wednesday.

Also, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has given the putschists in Niger an ultimatum.

If Bazoum is not reinstated by Sunday, ECOWAS will take action that could include sanctions and armed force, it declared.

Meanwhile, in Paris, the French Foreign Ministry said the evacuation of its nationals from Niger has been completed, according to a statement on its website published on Thursday.

French Defence Minister Sébastien Lecornu said on Twitter that 1,079 French and foreign nationals have been evacuated since Tuesday.

There were four Paris-bound flights carrying 992 people, including 560 French nationals.

A fifth and final flight brought about 100 people to Chad, the French General Staff told dpa.

Paris said the evacuation was needed because Niger had closed its airspace and there had been reported violence at the French embassy during pro-coup protests.

Niger’s junta has accused France of planning a military intervention.

French broadcasters France 24 and RFI have been banned from broadcasting in Niger.

A statement issued on Thursday evening by France’s Foreign Ministry said it very firmly condemned the suspension of broadcasting.

The measures taken against the press in Niger occurred in a context of authoritarian repression by those responsible for the coup, the ministry added.

In Washington, President Joe Biden noted on Thursday on the occasion of Niger’s Independence Day, that the West African country “is facing a grave challenge to its democracy.”

He repeated calls for the immediate release of Bazoum and his family and “for the preservation of Niger’s hard-earned democracy,” NAN reports.

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