Soldiers in Niger claim to have overthrown President Mohamed Bazoum

Group of soldiers appear on national television to announce the toppling of Bazoum’s government as US calls for the president’s ‘immediate release’.

Niger Army spokesman Colonel Major Amadou Adramane speaks during an appearance on national television, after President Mohamed Bazoum was held in the presidential palace, in Niamey, Niger, July 26, 2023 in this still image taken from video.
Niger army spokesman Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane speaks during an appearance on national television, after President Mohamed Bazoum was held in the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger, July 26, 2023 [ORTN via Reuters TV]

Soldiers in Niger claimed to have removed President Mohamed Bazoum from power late on Wednesday, hours after members of the presidential guard detained the politician at his official residence.

In a statement broadcast on national television, Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane said that “the defence and security forces … have decided to put an end to the regime you are familiar with”.

“This follows the continuous deterioration of the security situation, the bad social and economic management.”

The soldier said the country’s borders were closed and a nationwide curfew was in place. All institutions of the country were also suspended, he added.

Abdramane was seated and flanked by nine other officers wearing fatigues as he read out his statement. The group, which is calling itself the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country, warned against any foreign intervention.

The announcement came after a day of uncertainty as Niger’s presidency reported that members of the elite guard unit were engaging in an “anti-Republican demonstration” and news agencies reported that Bazoum was being held at the palace by the mutinous forces.

It was unclear where the president was at the time of Abdramane’s announcement or if he had resigned.

The United States immediately called for Bazoum’s release.

“I spoke with President Bazoum earlier this morning and made clear that the United States resolutely supports him as the democratically elected president of Niger,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in New Zealand.

“We call for his immediate release,” he said.

The military takeover, which marks the seventh coup in the West and Central Africa region since 2020, could further complicate Western efforts to help countries in the Sahel region fight against armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS (ISIL).

Niger, a land-locked former French colony, is a pivotal ally for Western powers seeking to help fight the armed groups and is also a key partner of the European Union in the fight against irregular migration from sub-Saharan Africa.

Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Washington, DC, said the developments in Niger were of great concern to the US and its allies.

“The US has two drone bases in Niger. They also have about 800 troops, some of whom are understood to be special forces who have been training the Nigerian military,” said Hanna.

“Essentially, Niger is the last US ally left standing in that particular region of the world. Governments in neighbouring Mali [and] Burkina Faso have been toppled in military coups, and both of these countries have expelled the French soldiers who were there and have turned to Russian-backed forces for protection. So this is something that the US knows and has been watching with great concern, and that this could possibly be the next step in what is happening in Niger,” he added.

The United Nations meanwhile denounced the apparent coup.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he “condemns in the strongest terms any effort to seize power by force and to undermine democratic governance, peace and stability in Niger”.

He also called on all actors involved to exercise restraint and to “ensure the protection of constitutional order”.

France too “strongly condemned all attempts to take power by force” in Niger.

Earlier on Wednesday, commissions of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) described the moves against Bazoum as an effort to unseat the politician, who was elected president two years ago in the nation’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who was selected this month as the ECOWAS commission’s chairman, said the regional bloc’s leadership would resist any attempt to topple Niger’s government.

“It should be quite clear to all players in the Republic of Niger that the leadership of the ECOWAS region and all lovers of democracy around the world will not tolerate any situation that incapacitates the democratically elected government of the country,” Tinubu said in a statement he issued in Abuja.

“We will do everything within our powers to ensure democracy is firmly planted, nurtured, well rooted and thrives in our region.”

The president of neighbouring Benin, Patrice Talon, flew into Niger on Wednesday afternoon to assess the situation after meeting with Tinubu in Nigeria.

“All means will be used, if necessary, to restore constitutional order in Niger, but the ideal would be for everything to be done in peace and harmony,” Talon told reporters in the Nigerian capital.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies