- ECOWAS bloc issues ultimatum to Niger’s new military leaders
- Pro-coup protesters burn French flags in Niamey
- The military takeover was the Sahel region’s seventh since 2020
- From Paris, Niger’s prime minister says sanctions would be catastrophic
NIAMEY/ABUJA, July 30 (Reuters) – West African nations imposed sanctions and threatened force on Sunday if Niger’s coup leaders fail to reinstate ousted President Mohammed Bazoum within a week, as junta supporters attacked the French embassy in Niamey.
The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc’s response to the Sahel region’s seventh coup in recent years came as crowds in Niger’s capital Niamey burned French flags and stoned the former colonial power’s mission and fired tear gas at police.
Pictures showed fires at the walls of the embassy and people being loaded into ambulances with bloody legs.
At an emergency meeting in Nigeria to discuss last week’s coup, leaders of the Economic Community of West African States called for the restoration of constitutional order and warned of reprisals if not.
“Such measures may include the use of force,” their communique said, adding that defense officials would meet immediately.
Chadian President Mahamat Idriss Deby, who came to power in 2021 after a coup, met his Nigerian counterpart Bola Tinubu on the sidelines of the summit and volunteered to talk to Niger’s military leaders, two presidential aides told Reuters, asking not to to be identified. .
Niger state television showed Deby arriving to meet them.
ECOWAS and the eight-member West African Economic and Monetary Union said borders with Niger would be closed with immediate effect, commercial flights banned, financial transactions halted, national assets frozen and aid ended.
Military officials involved in the coup would be banned from traveling and have their assets frozen, it added.
Niger’s prime minister under Bazoum’s government, Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, said ECOWAS sanctions would be disastrous because the country relies heavily on international partners to cover its budget needs.
“I know Niger’s fragility, I know the economic and financial context where Niger has been finance minister and now prime minister,” Mahamadou, who was abroad when the coup took place, told France24 television from Paris.
“This is a country that will not be able to withstand these kinds of sanctions. It will be catastrophic.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed ECOWAS’ action on Sunday.
“We join ECOWAS and regional leaders in calling for the immediate release of President Mohamed Bazoum and his family and the restoration of all state functions to the legitimate, democratically elected government,” Blinken said in a statement.
CAN SANCTIONS WORK?
Similar sanctions were imposed by ECOWAS against Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea following coups in those countries in the past three years.
Although the economic sanctions led to debt defaults – in Mali in particular – such measures have tended to hurt civilians more than the military leaders who seized power in some of the world’s poorest countries, political analysts say. Timelines for restoring civilian rule have been agreed in all three countries, but there has been little progress in implementing them.
The military coup in Niger, which began unfolding on Wednesday, has been widely condemned by neighbors and international partners, including the United States, the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and former colonial power France.
They have all refused to recognize the new leaders led by General Abdourahamane Tiani.
Niger has been a key ally in Western campaigns against insurgents linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel, and there are concerns that the coup could open the door to greater Russian influence there. Thousands of French troops were forced to withdraw from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso after coups there.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, receiving close to $2 billion a year in official development aid, according to the World Bank.
The US, France, Italy and Germany have troops there on military training and missions to fight Islamist insurgents. Niger is also the world’s seventh-largest producer of uranium, the radioactive metal widely used for nuclear energy and in nuclear weapons, as well as to treat cancer.
Ahead of the summit, Niger’s junta had warned that ECOWAS was considering imminent military intervention in collaboration with other African and some Western nations.
“We wish once again to remind ECOWAS or any other adventurer of our firm will to defend our homeland,” said junta spokesman Col. Amadou Abdramane.
‘COUP ERA MUST STOP’
At their invitation, thousands of people gathered in the capital on Sunday, some on their way to the French embassy.
“We are here to express our displeasure with France’s interference in Niger’s affairs. Niger is an independent and sovereign country, so France’s decisions have no influence on us,” said protester Sani Idrissa.
Similar to events in neighboring Burkina Faso last September after a coup, some protesters tried to scale the walls of the embassy, while others trampled burning French flags.
They were dispersed by the Niger National Guard.
France condemned the violence and said anyone attacking its nationals or interests would face a swift and severe response.
“The era of coup d’etats in Africa must stop. They are not acceptable,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told RTL radio, adding that the situation had calmed down by afternoon and that no evacuation of French citizens was planned.
The European Union and France have cut off financial aid to Niger, and the United States has threatened to do the same.
Sunday’s ECOWAS communique thanked nations in line with the bloc’s position, but “condemned the declaration of support from foreign governments and foreign private military contractors.”
Russia’s Wagnerian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who remains active despite leading a failed mutiny against the top Russian army last month, has hailed the coup as good news and offered the services of his fighters to bring order.
Reporting by Boureima Balima and Moussa Aksar in Niamey, Felix Onuah in Abuja, Elizabeth Pineau and Layli Foroudi in Paris; Written by Bate Felix and Alexandra Zavis; Editing by Frances Kerry, Andrew Cawthorne, Don Durfee and Diane Craft
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