Thousands of supporters of the military leaders that took over Niger in a coup this week marched through the streets of the capital, denouncing the country’s former colonial power and lighting a door at the French embassy ablaze before the army broke up the crowd.
Black smoke could be seen on Sunday across the city from the burning of the door, which was captured on video by The Associated Press.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday that attacks on France and its interests would not be tolerated. Anyone who attacked French nationals, the army, diplomats and French authorities would see an immediate response, he said.
Niger, a French colony until 1960, had been seen as the West’s last reliable partner in battling jihadists in Africa’s Sahel region. France has 1,500 soldiers in the country who conduct joint operations with the Nigeriens. The United States and other European countries have helped train the nation’s troops.
At an emergency meeting on Sunday in Abuja, Nigeria, the West African bloc known as ECOWAS said that it was suspending relations with Niger, and authorised the use of force if President Mohamed Bazoum is not reinstated within a week. The African Union has issued a 15-day ultimatum to the military government in Niger to reinstall the democratically elected government.
Bazoum was elected two years ago in Niger’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence from France in 1960.
Members of Niger’s military announced on Wednesday that they had deposed Bazoum, and on Friday named General Abdourahmane Tchiani – also known as Omar Tchiani – as the country’s new leader, adding Niger to a growing list of military regimes in West Africa’s Sahel region.
Niger has the most at stake of any country in the Sahel if it turns away from the West, given the millions of dollars of military assistance it has received from abroad.
The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc has unsuccessfully tried to restore democracies in nations where the military took power in recent years. Four nations are run by military regimes in West and Central Africa, where there have been nine successful or attempted coups since 2020.
If ECOWAS imposes economic sanctions on Niger, which is what typically happens during coups, it could have a deep impact on Nigeriens, who live in the third poorest country in the world according to the latest UN data.