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Supporters of Niger Coup Rally in Niamey Amid Heightened Security Concerns

The demonstrators, congregating at the heart of Niamey, waved enormous Russian flags while voicing their dissent against France with anti-French slogans. The event was organized to commemorate the 1960 independence of the West African nation from French colonial rule.

A large gathering has taken place in Niger’s capital, Niamey, on Thursday, with thousands of people coming together to show their support for the recent coup that ousted the democratically elected government.

The demonstrators, congregating at the heart of Niamey, waved enormous Russian flags while voicing their dissent against France with anti-French slogans. The event was organized to commemorate the 1960 independence of the West African nation from French colonial rule. Western nations have shown increasing concern about the security implications of the situation.

Issiaka Hamadou, one of the protesters, expressed a unified sentiment among the crowd, emphasizing that their primary concern was the restoration of security in the country, regardless of the source of assistance. He stated that they would welcome help from any country, be it Russia, China, Turkey, or others, as long as it contributed to ensuring stability in Niger.

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“We just don’t want the French, who have been looting us since 1960 — they’ve been there ever since and nothing has changed,” he said.

The crowd at the rally around him was shouting “Down with France”, “Long live Russia, long live (Vladimir) Putin”.

A week after the toppling of elected President Mohamed Bazoum, European citizens have been evacuating from Niger, which has had a key role in French and Western strategies to combat a jihadist insurgency that has plagued the Sahel since 2012.

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The clock is ticking down on Sunday’s ultimatum from West African regional bloc Ecowas for the coup leaders to restore Bazoum to power within a week or face the possible “last resort” of military intervention.

Niger is the fourth member of the group to undergo a putsch since 2020.

Senegal said Thursday it would send soldiers to join Ecowas if it decided to intervene militarily in Niger.

“It is one coup too many,” said Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall.

Bazoum has been held by the coup plotters since July 26, prompting US President Joe Biden to call for his immediate release Thursday, urging the “preservation of Niger’s hard-earned democracy”.

Britain and the United States have announced the pulling back of embassy personnel in Niger as a precaution.

Paris — which said Thursday it had completed its evacuation flights — urged the junta led by General Abdourahamane Tiani to “fully guarantee” the safety of embassies in Niamey ahead of Thursday’s protests.

Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) leaders have imposed trade and financial sanctions, with Nigeria cutting off the electricity supplies that account for some 70 percent of Niger’s grid.

West African military chiefs were meeting in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Thursday to discuss the possibility of military intervention if diplomatic negotiations fail.

An official from the Nigerian defence ministry told AFP those talks were set to end Friday.

As tensions rise across the region, an Ecowas team headed by former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar was also in Niger for talks.

Nigeria, West Africa’s pre-eminent military and economic power, is the current chair of Ecowas. It has vowed a firm line against coups that have proliferated across the region since 2020.

Junta-ruled Mali and Burkina Faso have that warned any military intervention in their neighbour would be tantamount to a “declaration of war” against them.

Anti-French sentiment in the region has only continued to rise, often whipped up by Russia which over the last years has taken an increasingly prominent presence via the Wagner mercenary group.

A French diplomatic source said there was “no evidence that Russia played a role in the coup” in Niger, but that it had an “opportunistic attitude” which meant it could seek to capitalise on events.

Publicly, Russia has called for “urgent national dialogue” in Niger, warning that threats of intervention “will not help ease tensions”.

Bazoum, 63, was feted in 2021 after winning elections that ushered in Niger’s first-ever peaceful transition of power.

He took the helm of a country burdened by four previous coups since independence from France in 1960.

But after surviving two attempted putsches, Bazoum was overthrown on July 26 when members of his own guard detained him at the presidency.

Their commander, Tiani, has declared himself leader, but his claim has been condemned internationally.

In a televised address Wednesday, Tiani rejected the international sanctions imposed and said he “refused to give in to any threat”.

France still has around 1,500 troops in Niger, where it refocused its anti-jihadist mission after pulling out of Mali and Burkina Faso last year.

After joining a regional revolt in northern Mali, armed Islamists advanced into Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015 and now carry out sporadic attacks on fragile states on the Gulf of Guinea.

Countless civilians, troops and police have been killed across the region, while around 2.2 million people in Burkina Faso alone have fled their homes.

The impact has contributed to army takeovers in all three Sahel countries and devastated economies at the very bottom of the world’s wealth table.

France’s anti-jihadist Burkina Faso mission had at its peak about 5,400 troops, supported by fighter jets, helicopters and drones.

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