France ready to back Niger sanctions over ‘dangerous’ coup
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he was prepared to back sanctions against the perpetrators of a “dangerous” coup in Niger, after his foreign minister said the power grab did not appear to be definitive.
Former colonial power France has made Niger the cornerstone of its more than decade-long counter-insurgency operations against Islamist militants in the Sahel region.
It has around 1,500 soldiers in the country who support the local military, having redefined its strategy after thousands withdrew from neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso following coups there.
If Wednesday’s coup in Niamey succeeds, French troops could well be forced to withdraw from there too, diplomats and analysts said.
“This coup d’etat is completely illegitimate, extremely dangerous for Nigeriens, for Niger and the entire region,” Macron told a news conference in Papua New Guinea.
The coup was widely condemned on Thursday, and Macron said he would support West African regional bloc ECOWAS should it decide to impose sanctions on those behind it.
French officials have told Reuters it is still not clear who is in charge in Niger, despite the head of the army appearing on Thursday to rally behind the plotters.
“If you hear me say attempted coup d’etat, it’s because we don’t consider that things are definitive,” Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told reporters in Papua New Guinea.
Macron said he had spoken to Niger President Mohamed Bazoum, who is being held in his palace, and called for him to be reinstated.
France has a further 1,000 troops based in Chad, where it has been less critical of a delayed transition to civilian rule after a 2021 coup.
France has faced a growing wave of resentment towards its influence in the Sahel, anger that some anti-Western elements have sought to stoke.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, boss of Russian mercenary group Wagner, on Friday hailed the coup as a liberation from Niger’s Western colonisers, though the foreign minister in Moscow, Sergei Lavrov, said on Thursday that constitutional order should be restored.
Since Wednesday, a spate of anti-French rhetoric and misinformation regionally and linked to Russia has sought to stoke anger against Paris over its activities in Niger, including accusing it of pillaging resources to fuel its nuclear reactors.
French nuclear company Orano operates uranium mining sites in Niger’s north, an area prone to security threats.
It said on Friday its operations were continuing as normal and that French nuclear power plants source less than 10% of their uranium from Niger. It has questioned whether mining it there remains commercially viable.
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