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Niger Republic closes airspace, refuses to reinstate president as ECOWAS deadline expires

Niger Republic closes airspace, refuses to reinstate president as ECOWAS deadline expires

Niger closed its airspace on Sunday until further notice, citing the threat of military intervention from the West African regional bloc after coup leaders rejected a deadline to reinstate the country’s ousted president.

Earlier, thousands of junta supporters flocked to a stadium in Niamey, the capital, cheering the decision not to cave in to external pressure to stand down by Sunday following the July 26 power grab.

The coup, the seventh in West and Central Africa in three years, has rocked the Sahel region, one of the poorest in the world. Given its uranium and oil riches and its pivotal role in a war with Islamist militants, Niger holds importance for the U.S., Europe, China and Russia.

Defence chiefs of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have agreed a possible military action plan, including when and where to strike, if the detained president, Mohamed Bazoum, is not released and reinstated by the deadline.

“In the face of the threat of intervention that is becoming more apparent … Nigerien airspace is closed effective from today,” a junta representative said in a statement on national television on Sunday evening.

He said there had been a pre-deployment of forces in two Central African countries in preparation for an intervention, but did not give details.

“Niger’s armed forces and all our defence and security forces, backed by the unfailing support of our people, are ready to defend the integrity of our territory,” he said.

ECOWAS did not respond to a request for comment on what its next steps would be, or when exactly on Sunday its deadline expires. A spokesman earlier said it would issue a statement at the end of the day.

Blasting military tunes and tooting vuvuzela horns, over 100 junta supporters this weekend set up a picket near an air base in Niamey – part of a citizen movement to offer non-violent resistance in support of the junta if needed.

As organisers led chants of “Vive Niger,” much of the emotion appeared directed against ECOWAS as well as former colonial power France, which said on Saturday it would support regional efforts to overturn the coup, without specifying if that included military assistance.

“The Nigerien people have understood that these imperialists want to bring about our demise. And God willing, they will be the ones to suffer for it,” said pensioner Amadou Adamou.

Niger last week revoked military cooperation agreements with France, which has between 1,000 and 1,500 troops in the country.

Sunday’s television broadcasts included a roundtable debate on encouraging solidarity in the face of ECOWAS sanctions, which have led to power cuts and soaring food prices.

The bloc’s military threat has triggered fears of further conflict in a region already battling the deadly Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and forced millions to flee.

Any military intervention could be complicated by a promise from juntas in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso to come to Niger’s defence if needed.

Bazoum’s Prime Minister, Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, said on Saturday in Paris that the ousted regime still believed a last-minute agreement was possible.

On Sunday, Italy said it had reduced its troop numbers in Niger to make room in its military base for Italian civilians who may need protection if security deteriorates.

Sanctions bite

And as the ECOWAS seeks to pursue the next line of action, the sanctions imposed by Nigeria and other members’ states opposed to the political crisis in Niger, are beginning to bit harder, Blueprint reports.

Hostility against Tinubu’s kinsmen

It was also gathered that consequent upon the pronouncement by the ECOWAS, chaired by President Tinubu, members of the Yoruba community in Niamey and other parts of the country are beginning to face hostility from the citizens.

Blueprint quoted a source to have said: “The threat by ECOWAS as well as sanctions imposed, are causing serious anxiety in Niamey. Sanctions are biting harder as prices of commodities, especially food items are on the high side. The cost of living has gone skyrocketed.

“For instance, the power supply cut off by Nigeria is seriously telling on everyone here in Niger. So also is the closure of borders by both the Nigerian and Nigerien authorities. Indomie noodles and juice that were hitherto coming from Nigeria have stopped, and you know what that means. Even attempt to use the Burkina Faso and Mali by Niger as transit points are not helping the situation in anyway because these two countries are landlocked.

“But in all of this, eyes are on the Yoruba community because of the pronouncement by Tinubu, as some of the citizens believe he is a Yoruba person. So, as I talk to you now, an average Yoruba-speaking person is under threat, people are very hostile. You know they speak Hausa here like Nigeria, so the Hausa man is not facing any hostility, so also are other tribes from Nigeria. In fact, being a Yoruba-speaking person at this time is an anathema.  But in fairness, the government is providing necessary security to all, including the embassies.”

Asked why the military leaders failed to back down, the source said: “The people are with them on this and that’s why one is worried on the hardline position taken by ECOWAS and Nigeria. These soldiers don’t really have anything against the ousted President Bouzom. Their target is France; a country they believe is exploiting their uranium and dictating the prices. So, it is more of economic thing than political.”

 

REUTERS/BBC/BLUEPRINT

 

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