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Africa leaders give Niger junta week to cede power

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ABUJA, Nigeria—African leaders have given the junta in Niger one week to cede power or face the possible use of force, and slapped financial sanctions on the putschists, after the latest coup in the jihadist-plagued Sahel region raised alarm on the continent and in the West.

In the third coup in as many years to fell a leader in the Sahel, Niger’s elected president and Western ally, Mohamed Bazoum, has been held by the military since Wednesday.

General Abdourahamane Tiani, the head of the powerful presidential guard, has declared himself leader and said the putsch was a response to “the degradation of the security situation” linked to jihadist bloodshed, as well as corruption and economic woes.

Meanwhile, Niger’s new junta accused former colonial ruler France of wanting to “intervene militarily” to reinstate deposed President Bazoum.

“In its search for ways and means to intervene militarily in Niger, France with the complicity of some Nigeriens, held a meeting with the chief of staff of the Nigerien national guard to obtain the necessary political and military authorization needed,” said a statement read out on national television.

In another statement, the putschists accused the security services of an unnamed Western embassy of firing teargas Sunday on pro-coup demonstrators in the capital Niamey.

It said six people had been hospitalized after the incident.

French President Emmanuel Macron had Sunday vowed “immediate” action if French citizens or interests were attacked in Niger, after thousands of Nigeriens rallied outside the French embassy.

Anti-French sentiment runs high in some former African colonies as the continent becomes a renewed diplomatic battleground, with Russian and Chinese influence growing.

France has some 1,500 troops in the West African nation, which is one of its last allies in the Sahel region, after French forces had to withdraw from neighboring Mali earlier this year.

Bazoum is one of a dwindling group of elected presidents and pro-Western leaders in the Sahel, where since 2020 a jihadist insurgency has also triggered coups in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Former colonial ruler France and the European Union have suspended security cooperation and financial aid to Niger following the coup, while the United States warned that its aid could also be at stake.

At an emergency summit in Nigeria, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc demanded Bazoum be reinstated within a week.

Otherwise, the bloc said it would take “all measures” to restore constitutional order.

“Such measures may include the use of force for this effect,” it said in a statement.

“No more time for us to send a warning signal… It’s time for action,” said Bola Tinubu, president of Nigeria and ECOWAS chairman.

Washington welcomed “the strong leadership of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Heads of State and Government to defend constitutional order in Niger,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement joining calls for the immediate release of Bazoum and the restoration of the democratically-elected government.

“The United States will remain actively engaged with ECOWAS and West African leaders on next steps to preserve Niger’s hard-earned democracy,” Blinken added.

It was not immediately clear how the 15-member ECOWAS could use force. Last year, the bloc agreed to create a regional security force to intervene against jihadists and prevent military coups, but details on the force and its funding have not been outlined.

The bloc also slapped financial sanctions on the junta leaders and the country, freezing “all commercial and financial transactions” between member states and Niger — one of the world’s poorest nations, often ranking last on the UN’s Human Development Index.

Niger’s Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou told broadcaster France24 Sunday that sanctions were “going to be a disaster” both economically and socially.

Bazoum’s PNDS party called for demonstrations to be held to demand the release of the president.

‘Down with France’

On Saturday, the junta condemned the ECOWAS summit, saying its aim was to “approve a plan of aggression against Niger, in the form of an imminent military intervention in Niamey”.

The intervention would be “in cooperation with African countries who are not members of the regional body and certain Western nations”, junta member Amadou Abdramane said on national television.

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