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Sanctions on the cards as West African leaders discuss Niger

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West African leaders will meet Sunday in the Nigerian capital Abuja for an “extraordinary summit” on Niger, scene of the latest military coup to hit the Sahel region, with the possibility of sanctions on the cards.

The country’s elected president Mohamed Bazoum has been held by the military for four days, and General Abdourahamane Tiani, the chief of the powerful presidential guard, has declared himself leader.

Former colonial ruler France and the European Union have suspended security cooperation and financial aid to Niger, and it remains to be seen whether the Economic Community of West African Nations (ECOWAS) will do the same.

“ECOWAS and the international community would do everything to defend democracy and ensure democratic governance continues to take firm root in the region,” said Bola Tinubu, president of Nigeria and ECOWAS chairman, in a statement Friday.

The body has the power to impose sanctions on Niger, which is one of its 15 members.

Ahead of Sunday’s gathering, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Tinubu to convey his “deep concern” over the situation in Niger, and “underscored his support for President Tinubu’s continued efforts to restore constitutional order” there.

Niger’s neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso have both undergone two military coups since 2020, fuelled by anger at a failure to quash long-running insurgencies by jihadists linked to the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.

Tiani said the putsch was a response to “the degradation of the security situation” linked to jihadist bloodshed as well as corruption and economic woes.

– Turbulent political history –

After a wave of condemnation for the coup, punitive measures have already begun.

France — which has 1,500 soldiers in Niger — said Saturday it was suspending development aid and budgetary support to the west African nation, one of the world’s poorest countries.

It called for “an immediate return to constitutional order” and Bazoum’s reinstatement.

European Union diplomatic chief Josep Borrell meanwhile said the bloc would not recognise the putschists, and announced the indefinite suspension of security cooperation with Niger with immediate effect as well as budgetary aid.

Borrell said the EU was ready to support future decisions taken by ECOWAS, “including the adoption of sanctions”, echoing a statement by France’s foreign minister.

The African Union has given the military two weeks to restore “constitutional authority”.

It condemned the coup in “the strongest terms possible” and expressed deep concern over the “alarming resurgence” of military overthrows in Africa.

The United States — which has about 1,000 troops in Niger — has offered Bazoum Washington’s steadfast support and warned those detaining him that they were “threatening years of successful cooperation and hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance”.

Landlocked Niger often ranks last in the UN’s Human Development Index, despite vast deposits of uranium. It has had a turbulent political history since gaining independence in 1960, with four coups as well as numerous other attempts — including two previously against Bazoum.


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