Niger soldiers claim power after president’s own guards reportedly seize him

Men in military fatigues claimed to have taken power in Niger after President Mohamed Bazoum was reportedly seized by members of the presidential guard on Wednesday, sparking international condemnation and renewed uncertainty in a volatile part of Africa beset by coups and militant extremism.

In a video communique, a man identified as Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane and flanked by several apparent soldiers, announced, “We have decided to put an end to the regime that you know,” citing a deteriorating security situation in the country and “poor economic and social governance.”

National institutions have been suspended and the country’s land borders are temporarily closed, he also said, appearing to read from a text on the table before him.

Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massoudou called the soldiers’ actions “an attempted coup d’etat” but said “the totality of the army was not behind the coup.”

He called on “mutinous officers to return to their ranks” in an interview with French television station France 24, adding that mediation efforts are under way, including those by the president of Nigeria who is “dialoguing with the military.”

He said he had spoken to the president, who is “in good health” and has not been harmed.

Niger’s presidential office said on Thursday that “hard-won achievements will be safeguarded.” The statement, which was posted on Twitter and is being rebranded as X, made no mention whether Bazoum is still being detained.

Niger has a long history of military coups since its independence from France in 1960 however in recent years it had been less politically unstable. When Bazoum came to office in 2021, it was the country’s first democratic transfer of power.

Much of Africa’s Sahel region has found itself confronting Islamist insurgencies, including Niger which has received support from the United States and France in tackling extremists.

But the region has also seen multiple coups in recent years, including in Niger’s neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso.

Cameron Hudson, a senior associate at the Center for the Strategic and International Studies, said there had been indications that Niger’s military leadership were not pleased with the level of support they were given to fight militants and that a coup could impact that campaign.

“If the military is more concerned with domestic politics, then there is a risk that they are no longer going to be fighting the fight against these terrorist groups that are now encroaching on Niger and on the capital,” he added.

Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, has “endemic problems, poverty, and terrorism, so there are many factors contributing to instability in the country,” he added.

In 2017, four US special forces soldiers were killed in an ambush by more than 100 ISIS fighters in Niger.

International alarm

While events inside Niger remained murky, including the precise whereabouts of Bazoum, international criticism of the attempted coup grew overnight.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said on Thursday he is “shocked and distressed” by the attempted military takeover in Niger, urging “all actors to refrain from violence.”

“It is in the interests of all the people of Niger that the important democratic gains made in recent years are safeguarded and preserved,” he added.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said that there had been an “attempt to seize power by force” in the West African country.

“ECOWAS condemns in the strongest terms the attempt to seize power by force and calls on the coup plotters to free the democratically-elected President of the Republic immediately and without any condition,” the bloc added.

White House officials said they “strongly condemn any effort to detain or subvert the functioning of Niger’s democratically elected government.”

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the partnership between Washington and the West African country is contingent on its “continued commitment to democratic standards.”

France also described the unfolding events as an attempted power grab.

“(France) strongly condemns any attempt to seize power by force and joins the calls of the African Union and ECOWAS to restore the integrity of Nigerien democratic institutions,” Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said on X, formerly Twitter, on Thursday.

Germany said it is following events in Niger with “very great concern.”

“Violence is not a means to enforce political or personal interests,” the country’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Presidential palace sealed off

Niger’s presidential complex was sealed off Wednesday, with heavily armed members of the Presidential Guard assembling outside the Presidential Palace early that morning. Roughly twenty members of the Presidential Guard could be seen outside the palace complex later in the day.

The country’s interior minister, Hamadou Souley, was also arrested by the presidential guard on Wednesday morning local time and is being held in the presidential palace in the capital Niamey along with Bazoum.

Up to 400 protesters were seen later on Wednesday, some holding photos of Bazoum and signs saying: “No to the destabilization of the republic’s institutions.”

Niger’s presidential office said in a tweet on Wednesday that “spontaneous protests by democracy advocates broke out all over the (capital) city of Niamey, (around) the country and in front of Niger’s embassies abroad after the announcement this morning that President (Mohamed) Bazoum is being held in his palace by his guard.”

The presidential guards are holding Bazoum inside the palace, which has been blocked off by military vehicles since Wednesday morning, Reuters and the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Wednesday. Reuters cited security sources and AFP referenced sources close to Bazoum.

The US Embassy in Niger said it had received reports of political instability within the capital Niamey.

“At this time the city is calm. We advise everyone to limit unnecessary movements, and avoid all travel along Rue de la Republique until further notice,” the embassy said.

Agency footage from the capital Niamey shows the rest of the city appearing calm.

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