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Thousands of pro-Russia protesters march through Niger capital in support of coup

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Demonstrators hold a Russian flag and banners during the gathering in support of the putschist soldiers in the capital Niamey

Demonstrators hold a Russian flag and banners during the gathering in support of the putschist soldiers in the capital Niamey – REUTERS

Supporters of the coup in Niger attempted to storm the French embassy on Sunday after marching through the capital waving Russian flags and chanting the name of Vladimir Putin.

Thousands of backers of the military junta gathered outside the diplomatic mission of former colonial power France, stoning the premises and setting the door on fire.

As crowds chanted “long live Putin” and “down with France”, some supporters attempted to storm the entrance, before the crowd was dispersed by Nigerien soldiers firing tear gas.

Emmanuel Macron warned that anyone who attacked French nationals or diplomats would meet “immediate and intractable” retaliation.

Niger had been seen as the last reliable partner for the West in efforts to battle the jihadists in Africa’s Sahel region, where Russia and Western countries have vied for influence. France has 1,500 soldiers in the country who conduct joint operations with the Nigeriens.

Protesters cheer Nigerien troops as they gather in front of the French Embassy in Niamey

Protesters cheer Nigerien troops as they gather in front of the French Embassy in Niamey – AFP

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

General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the head of the powerful presidential guard, has declared himself leader.

On Sunday at an emergency meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) said it was suspending relations with Niger and authorised the use of force if the president was not reinstated within a week.

“In the event the authorities’ demands are not met within one week, take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger. Such measures may include the use of force. To this effect, the chiefs of defence staff of Ecowas are to meet immediately,” Omar Alieu Touray, president of the Ecowas commission, said after the meeting.

Last year, Ecowas leaders agreed to create a regional security force to intervene against jihadists and prevent military coups, but details on the force and its funding are still unclear.

Any intervention would mark the first time Ecowas has turned to military action in its history.

In a statement read out on national television on Saturday evening, Niger junta member Amadou Abdramane said the summit’s 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 co-operation with African countries who are not members of the regional body and certain Western nations”, he added.

Demonstrators gather in support of the army coup in Niamey, the capital city of Niger

Demonstrators gather in support of the army coup in Niamey, the capital city of Niger – REUTERS

President Mohamed Bazoum was democratically elected two years ago in Niger’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence from France in 1960.

The coup leaders said they overthrew him because he wasn’t able to secure the nation against growing jihadi violence.

But some analysts and Nigeriens say that was a pretext for a takeover that is more about internal power struggles than securing the nation.

“Everybody is wondering: why this coup? That’s because no one was expecting it. We couldn’t expect a coup in Niger because there’s no social, political or security situation that would justify that the military take the power,” Prof Amad Hassane Boubacar, who teaches at the University of Niamey, told the Associated Press news agency.

He said Mr Bazoum wanted to replace General Tchiani, who is now in charge of the country.

Nigeriens holding a Russian flag and placards reading ‘France kills Niger’ and ‘For a new Niger long live CNSP’

Nigeriens holding a Russian flag and placards reading ‘France kills Niger’ and ‘For a new Niger long live CNSP’ – Sam Mednick/AP

While Niger’s security situation is dire, it is not as bad as neighbouring Burkina Faso or Mali, which have also been battling an Islamic insurgency linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

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

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

Landlocked Niger often ranks last in the United Nations’ 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 Mr Bazoum.

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