US warns of ‘deteriorating conditions’ for Niger’s ousted President Bazoum

Media reports have emerged that the Nigerien president and his family are surviving on rice and pasta without electricity.

People take to the streets with raised fists and flags to show support for Niger's coup leaders.
Supporters of Niger’s coup rally in front of a French army base in the capital Niamey on Friday [Mahamadou Hamidou/Reuters]

The United States’ top diplomat has reiterated his “grave concern” for the wellbeing of deposed Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, after a coup on July 26 resulted in his removal from power.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a telephone call on Friday with Bazoum’s predecessor, former President Mahamadou Issoufou, to talk about the “deteriorating conditions” the embattled leader faces.

“The Secretary shared that he is particularly dismayed by the refusal of those who seized power in Niger to release Bazoum’s family members as a demonstration of goodwill,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a read-out of the call.

Bazoum is being held in the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger’s capital, alongside his wife Hadiza and one of their children, Salem.

Media reports have emerged throughout the week that the family has been allegedly denied adequate food and water. Bazoum’s daughter Zazia Bazoum told the newspaper The Guardian on Friday that her relatives are surviving on a dwindling supply of dry rice and pasta.

Their electricity has been cut, she explained, leaving the food in the fridge to rot after more than two weeks in confinement. She said all three detainees have lost weight, with her brother dropping 10kg.

“You understand you can’t eat only rice and pasta always, day and night,” Zazia Bazoum told the newspaper. “So for their health, it’s dangerous. They do not even have clean water to drink, and the gas [in their stove] to cook will end soon too.”

She believes the coup leaders intend to force her father to sign a resignation letter. “This is torture,” she said.

CNN reported that President Bazoum confirmed his living conditions in a series of text messages shared with the news outlet earlier this week. He has not appeared in public since his presidential guard took him into custody.

The head of the presidential guard, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, has since designated himself leader of Niger’s transitional government.

Victoria Nuland, the acting deputy secretary of state for the US, was denied an audience with President Bazoum when she visited Niamey on Monday.

But on Wednesday, the US State Department issued a press release saying Blinken had managed to speak with President Bazoum in a phone call, during which he conveyed “the United States’ ongoing support for a solution that restores Niger to democratic rule and constitutional order”.

Niger’s coup leaders have faced international pressure to restore Bazoum to power, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a 15-member regional bloc, reaffirmed on Thursday that it is willing to engage in the “use of force” as a last resort.

The state utility company has also blamed international sanctions for Niger’s electricity outages. Some 70 percent of the country’s power comes from neighbouring Nigeria, which has cut off electricity supplies in the wake of the coup. Food prices, meanwhile, have risen in the wake of sanctions and the suspension of some international aid.

The recent government overthrow marks Niger’s fifth successful coup since the country gained independence from France in 1960.

Source: Al Jazeera