Niger military chief backs coup leaders

Niger’s armed forces chief yesterday declared his support for troops who said they had overthrown the government, despite a defiant stand by the country’s elected president and an outcry from the world community.

The latest target of a coup in the deeply troubled Sahel, President Mohamed Bazoum was confined at his residence on Wednesday by members of his presidential guard.

Hours later, their leaders, calling themselves the Defence and Security Forces (FDS), declared they had “decided to put an end to the regime,” and all institutions were being suspended, the borders closed and a night-time curfew imposed.

Armed forces chief General Abdou Sidikou Issa yesterday swung his weight behind the putschists.

“The military command… has decided to subscribe to the declaration made by the Defence and Security Forces… in order to avoid a deadly confrontation between the various forces,” he said in a statement.

Earlier, Bazoum defiantly stood his ground as condemnation of the putsch swelled from African and international organisations and allies France and the United States.

“The hard-won (democratic) gains will be safeguarded,” Bazoum said on Twitter, which is being rebranded as X.

“All Nigeriens who love democracy and freedom would want this.”

Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massoudou said Niger’s “legal and legitimate power” was the one exercised by its elected president.

There had been a “coup bid” but “the whole of the army was not involved,” he told France24 television.

“We ask all the fractious soldiers to return to their ranks,” he said.

“Everything can be achieved through dialogue but the institutions of the republic must function.”

On Wednesday morning, disgruntled members of the Presidential Guard sealed off access to Bazoum’s residence and offices and after talks broke down “refused to release the president”, a presidential source said.

The coup leaders — 10 men in military uniform — appeared on television overnight.

Their leader, an officer named Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane, announced they were taking power following “the continued deterioration of the security situation, poor economic and social governance.”

The parties in Niger’s ruling coalition denounced “a suicidal and anti-republican madness” and condemnation poured in from regional and global leaders.

ECOWAS and the African Union each blasted an “attempted coup d’etat” while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attacked “the unconstitutional change in government.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had spoken to Bazoum to offer support from Washington, which deploys about 1,100 troops in Niger.

France, a key ally which has 1,500 soldiers in Niger, called for “the restoration of the integrity of Nigerien democratic institutions.”

Russia — isolated internationally since invading Ukraine in February 2022 — joined nations appealing for Bazoum’s release.

All disputes should be resolved “through peaceful and constructive dialogue,” it said.

Bazoum took office after elections two years ago, in Niger’s first-ever peaceful transition since independence.

He had been interior minister and right-hand man to former president Mahamadou Issoufou, who voluntarily stepped down after two terms.

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