First evacuation flight from coup-hit Niger lands in France

The primary aircraft carrying principally French and European individuals evacuated from Niger landed in Paris early Wednesday, every week after a coup toppled one of many final pro-Western leaders within the jihadist-plagued Sahel.

President Mohamed Bazoum was detained by his personal presidential guard in a 3rd coup in as a few years within the Sahel, following putsches in neighbouring fellow former French colonies Mali and Burkina Faso.

West African leaders, supported by their Western companions, have threatened to make use of power to reinstate the democratically elected Bazoum and slapped monetary sanctions on the junta.

After anti-French protests unleashed by the coup, Paris on Tuesday stated it was transferring to withdraw its nationals from the capital Niamey.

“There are 262 individuals on board the aircraft, an Airbus A330, together with a dozen infants,” French International Minister Catherine Colonna instructed AFP earlier than the primary evacuation flight landed at Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport shortly after 1:30 am Wednesday (2330 GMT Tuesday).

“Practically all of the passengers are compatriots” together with “some European nationals”.

There have been additionally Nigeriens, Portuguese, Belgians, Ethiopians and Lebanese on board, the international ministry instructed reporters on the airport.

The evacuation was “nicely organised, it was pretty fast, for me all the things went nicely”, stated Bernard, who had been working in Niger for the European Union for 2 months.

“In Niamey, there aren’t any explicit tensions within the metropolis, no explicit stress, individuals go about their enterprise,” he stated.

“It feels good,” stated a relieved Raissa Kelembho, who returned from Niger together with her two boys. “At one level, there was a sense of insecurity, we knew that all the things may change,” stated Kelembho, whose husband remained in Niger for work.

A second aircraft carrying French, Nigerien, German, Belgian, Canadian, American, Austrian and Indian nationals was on account of land, with a complete of 4 flights deliberate to date in an operation anticipated to finish by noon Wednesday.

– ‘No army pullout’ –

The coup has sounded alarm bells in France, Niger’s former colonial grasp and conventional ally.

Paris blamed the evacuation on the “violence that happened in opposition to our embassy” and the chance of “closure of the airspace that would depart our compatriots with out the chance to go away”.

The Niger junta, nonetheless, introduced late Tuesday that it had reopened the nation’s land and air borders with 5 neighbouring international locations.

It’s the first time that France has staged a large-scale evacuation in its former colonies within the Sahel.

Nonetheless, the military chief of employees introduced {that a} army pullout of France’s 1,500 troops from Niger was “not on the agenda”.

In Berlin, the international ministry urged “all German nationals” to take up the French evacuation provide. It stated that fewer than 100 German civilians have been believed to be in Niger.

In Washington, the White Home stated america was not becoming a member of European allies in evacuating residents for now, citing an absence of fast hazard.

About 1,100 US troops are in Niger.

– ‘Declaration of conflict’ –

On Sunday the Financial Neighborhood of West African States (ECOWAS) slapped sanctions on Niger and warned it might use power because it gave the coup leaders every week to reinstate Bazoum.

The next day, the junta accused France of searching for to “intervene militarily”, a cost which drew a French denial, whereas junta-ruled Mali and Burkina Faso warned any army intervention in Niger could be a “declaration of conflict” in opposition to them.

The army chiefs of ECOWAS members will meet within the Nigerian capital Abuja from Wednesday to Friday to debate the coup.

A delegation from the West African bloc led by former Nigerian president Abdulsalami Abubakar can also be on account of go to Niger on Wednesday.

The dramatic occasions are unfolding in one of many world’s poorest and most unstable international locations — an enormous semi-desert nation that had already skilled 4 coups since independence in 1960.

Bazoum was feted in 2021 after successful elections that ushered in Niger’s first-ever peaceable transition of energy.

However his tenure was already marked by two tried coups earlier than final week’s dramatic occasions, during which he was detained by members of the elite Presidential Guard.

Guards chief Common Abdourahamane Tiani has declared himself chief — however his declare has been rejected internationally.

– Jihadist insurgency –

The coup has anxious Western international locations in opposition to a backdrop of a jihadist insurgency that flared in northern Mali in 2012, superior into Niger and Burkina Faso three years later and now overshadows fragile states on the Gulf of Guinea.

Numerous numbers of civilians, troops and police have been killed throughout the area, many in ruthless massacres, whereas round 2.2 million individuals in Burkina Faso alone have fled their properties. The financial harm has been devastating.

France at one level had level 5,400 troops in its anti-jihadist Barkhane mission throughout the Sahel, supported by fighter jets, helicopters and drones.

In all three Sahel international locations, the disgruntled army intervened in opposition to elected presidents because the toll mounted from jihadist assaults.

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