(NEW YORK) — Soldiers in Niger have announced they have ousted the West African nation’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, in a national televised address.
Surrounded by uniformed soldiers, Niger’s Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane — representing the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland (CNSP) — declared the military has “put an end to the regime” of Bazoum, citing “the deteriorating security situation and bad governance.”
“This day, July 26, 2023, we, the defense and security forces, meeting within the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland have decided to put an end to the regime you know,” said Abdramane. “This follows the continuing deterioration of the security situation, and poor economic and social governance. The defense and security forces are managing the situation. All external partners are asked not to interfere.”
Reading from a statement Abdramane, flanked by soldiers, also announced Niger’s land and air borders have been closed, and “all institutions” suspended.
Niger’s Presidential Guard Officer also announced the indefinite suspension of activities of all political parties on Thursday.
The televised announcement came hours after reports on Wednesday of President Bazoum being held by guards inside the presidential palace in Niamey.
Niger’s presidency announced that Bazoum and his family are “doing well.”
Bazoum defiantly tweeted that “hard-won achievements will be safeguarded in Niger” and that “All Nigerians who love democracy and freedom will see to it.”
With fears of a coup attempt underway, dozens of peaceful protesters spontaneously gathered on the streets of Niamey as gunfire erupted when soldiers fired into the air in a bid to disperse them. There were no reports of injuries.
In a statement, The African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat strongly condemned the “attempted coup d’etat,” referring to the actions of members of the military as acting in “total betrayal of their republican duty.”
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres also decried the apparent coup attempt, condemning the “unconstitutional change in government” and expressed concern over the safety and well-being of Bazoum, who has been in the palace since early Wednesday.
All UN operations in Niger have been suspended “given the situation,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric announced on Thursday.
“I spoke with President Bazoum earlier this morning and made clear that the United States resolutely supports him as the democratically elected president of Niger,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as he spoke at a press conference in New Zealand.
“We call for his immediate release,” Blinken added.
The attempted coup — the seventh in West and Central Africa since 2020 — throws into question the future of the landlocked state of Niger, which has been subject to four coups since gaining independence in 1960.
Bazoum was first elected to office in April 2021 in Niger’s first peaceful democratic transfer of power.
A few days before Bazoum was due to be sworn in, a dramatic coup attempt was thwarted as military units aimed to seize the presidential palace.
Niger has been a key ally to the U.S. and Western nations in the fight against Islamist militants in the Sahel. The U.S. Department of Defense said it has provided $500 million in military assistance to Niger since 2012 — “one of the largest” security assistance and training packages in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Sahelian jihadists have occupied Park W, a huge nature reserve in the borderlands of Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger, transforming it into a launchpad for expansion toward the West African savannah,” says the Crisis Group. “Authorities in these three countries have tried hard, with the support of foreign partners, to halt the militants advance. But their efforts have fallen short.”
Nearby nations such as Mali, Central African Republic (CAR) and Burkina Faso have turned to Russia’s Wagner Group for help in the fight against regional instability and terror in the Sahel, as the military company has been intensifying its focus and influence in the region.
Meanwhile, Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin commented on the coup in Niger, calling it a “struggle of the people of Niger with the colonialists.”
Neighboring President Bola Tinubu of Nigeria and Patrice Talon of Benin, met at the presidential villa in Abuja, and have described the attempted coup as “military misbehavior” that is a concern for both presidents and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
“We are taking this matter seriously and responding promptly,” they continued.
Benin’s president has headed to Niamey to “address the situation,” according to reports.
Meanwhile, the White House has said it is monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens.
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