February 22, 2024
NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — Niger state television has declared Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani the leader of mutinous soldiers who detained the democratically elected president in a coup. Tchiani, who goes by Omar, addressed the nation Friday, two days after the military takeover. He said the country needed to change course to avoid “the gradual and inevitable […]

NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — Niger state television has declared Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani the leader of mutinous soldiers who detained the democratically elected president in a coup.
Tchiani, who goes by Omar, addressed the nation Friday, two days after the military takeover.
He said the country needed to change course to avoid “the gradual and inevitable demise” and thus he and others had decided to intervene.
As he spoke, state TV identified him as the leader of the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country, the group of soldiers who said they staged the takeover.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — Various factions of Niger’s military wrangled for power Friday, an analyst and a Western military official said, two days after members of the presidential guard detained the democratically elected president in a coup, setting off political chaos that could set back the country’s fight against jihadists and increase Russia’s influence in West Africa.
It remained unclear who was in charge, and if efforts at mediation had begun. A delegation from neighboring Nigeria left shortly after arriving, and the president of Benin, nominated as a mediator by a regional body, had not arrived.
An analyst who has spoken with participants in the talks said that the Presidential Guard, which led the coup, is negotiating with the army about who should be in charge. The analyst asked not to be named because of the sensitive situation.
A western military official in Niger who is not authorized to speak to the media confirmed that the military factions were believed to be negotiating, and said that situation remains tense and all of the ingredients are on the table for it to erupt in fighting.
Speaking in Papua New Guinea, French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the coup as “completely illegitimate and profoundly dangerous for the Nigeriens, Niger and the whole region.” He said that he had spoken repeatedly with President Mohamed Bazoum, and that the detained leader is in good health.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told French media that there was still time to end what she described as an “attempted coup.”
“If you are hearing me speak of an attempted coup, that’s because we do not regard things as definitive,” French media quoted Colonna as saying. She also spoke of “possible exits if those responsible for this attempt hear the message from the international community.”
Niger is seen as the last partner in the West’s efforts to battle jihadists linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group in Africa’s Sahel region, where Russia and the west have been vying for influence in the fight against extremism. France, which ruled Niger as a colony until 1960, has 1,500 soldiers in the country, who conduct joint operations with the Nigeriens.
On Thursday, several hundred people gathered in the capital, Niamey, and chanted support for the Russian private military group Wagner while waving Russian flags. Later, they burned cars and ransacked the headquarters of the president’s political party. “We’re fed up,” said Omar Issaka, one of the protestors.
“We are tired of being targeted by the men in the bush … Down with the French people. We’re going to collaborate with Russia now,” he said.
The mutinous soldiers have not announced a leader and President Mohamed Bazoum, who was elected two years ago in Niger’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960, has not resigned.
Some of the last public communications from the government included a defiant tweet by the president Thursday declaring that democracy would prevail and a call by the Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massoudou, on media outlet France 24, for Nigeriens to stand against the mutiny.
However, it’s unclear who’s involved in these dialogues, the nature of the discussions or how they’re proceeding.
Earlier this week, The Economic Community of West African States said it was sending Benin President Patrice Talon to lead mediation efforts, but as of Friday Talon was not in the country. During their first address to the nation Wednesday night, the mutineers urged “external partners” not to interfere.
Macron said France supports regional organizations, in particular ECWAS, “in the decisions that it will have to take — of mediation or condemnation and sanctions against the putschists if they make progress and finalize their plan.”
Analysts say the coup threatens to starkly reshape the international community’s engagement with the Sahel region.
On Thursday, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, said the country’s “substantial cooperation with the Government of Niger is contingent on Niger’s continued commitment to democratic standards.”
Niger could lose millions of dollars in military aid and assistance, which the United States and European countries have recently poured in an attempt to help in the fight against Islamic extremism.
The United States in early 2021 said it had provided Niger with more than $500 million in military assistance and training programs since 2012, one of the largest such support programs in sub-Saharan Africa. The European Union earlier this year launched a 27 million-euro ($30 million) military training mission in Niger.
The United States has more than 1,000 service personnel in the country.
Some military leaders who appear to be involved in the coup have worked closely with the United States for years. Several senior officers appeared in a video that announced the coup on state television two days ago.
Gen. Moussa Salaou Barmou, the head of Niger’s special forces has an especially strong relationship with the United States, the western military official said, and his presence in the video sparked concern about shifting loyalties.
The coup has dashed hopes of collaboration between Sahelian countries and Western powers, which offered a more robust response to the jihadist insurrection when compared with the strategies to arm civilians in Burkina Faso or the responsibility given to Wagner in Mali, said Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, senior Sahel analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso have both ousted the French military, which previously provided aid in their fight against jihadists. Mali has contracted Wagner, and it’s believed the mercenaries will soon be in Burkina Faso. Now, concerns are mounting that Niger will follow in their footsteps.
As uncertainty lingers about who’s in charge, insecurity could worsen. “The army officers will be busy positioning themselves in power struggles and abandon the fight against jihadists,” said Ulf Laessing, head of the Sahel program at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
Rights groups also warn that civilians usually bear the brunt of these mutinies.
“During a coup, the first victims are always the same: the most vulnerable, women and children,” said Drissa Traore, secretary-general of the International Federation for Human Rights.
On Thursday the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it has paused operations in Niger, where more than 370,000 people are internally displaced and more than 4 million rely on aid.
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AP writer John Leicester in Paris contributed to this report.