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6 Aug, 2023 21:01

Niger junta refuses to back down as ultimatum expires

Threatened with invasion by their Western-backed neighbors, Niger’s military rulers have vowed to “stand and fight”
Niger junta refuses to back down as ultimatum expires

The military putschists running Niger have refused to relinquish power, as an ultimatum set by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expired on Sunday. The coup leaders have vowed to rid Niger of colonial influence, reportedly turning to Russia’s Wagner private military company to achieve this.

ECOWAS issued a one-week ultimatum to the military leaders last week, demanding that General Abdourahamane Tchiani and his cabinet of generals step down and reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum. The generals deposed and arrested Bazoum late last month, with Tchiani then cutting off mineral exports to France and threatening to suspend military agreements with his country’s former colonial master.

The ECOWAS ultimatum passed unheeded. “We will all stand and fight as one people,” senior junta official Gen. Mohamed Toumba told a rally of supporters in the Nigerien capital Niamey on Sunday afternoon. “We are asking you to stay mobilized.”

Led by Nigeria, several member states of the ECOWAS bloc have drawn up war plans and are preparing for an invasion. However, lawmakers in Nigeria have pushed President Bola Tinubu to seek a diplomatic solution before sending Nigerian troops across the border.

Backing the coup leaders are the governments of Mali and Burkina Faso, both of which seized power amid a wave of anti-French unrest over the last two years. Having ejected French troops – who were engaged in a decade-long counterinsurgent operation – from their territories, both governments have promised to treat any ECOWAS invasion as a declaration of war against them.

Bazoum has called for US military intervention, while the junta has reportedly asked Russia’s Wagner private military company for assistance. Neither the Kremlin nor the Wagner Group have commented on the request, and although Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has called the coup a “justified rebellion of the people against Western exploitation,” Moscow has called for “a swift return to constitutional normality” in Niger. 

The US and EU have imposed sanctions on Niger following the coup, and France has declared that it backs ECOWAS’ efforts to bring Bazoum – an ally of Paris – back into power. However, the French government has not explicitly stated whether it supports direct military intervention.

The junta warned on Sunday night that “a foreign superpower” was preparing to intervene in Niger, according to Al Jazeera. However, no further details were given.