The first military planes carrying mostly European nationals evacuated from Niger landed in Paris and Rome on Wednesday, with France and other countries expected to fly more of their citizens out of the West African country after last week’s coup.
Niger’s democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum and his government were overthrown by members of his presidential guard on July 26 in the seventh military takeover in less than three years in West and Central Africa.
With the risk of conflict escalating, France, the former colonial power, Italy and Spain said they would evacuate citizens by air.
The first French flight left Niger on Tuesday evening and landed in Paris early on Wednesday with 262 people on board, according to journalists there.
“Things could have turned ugly but it still is nice to be back here,” a French evacuee who gave his name as Charles told journalists.
“We will see how things evolve over there in the coming days and weeks. For us, who care about it quite a lot, we will follow this closely,” he said.
An Italian military plane carrying 87 evacuees from Niger arrived in Rome early on Wednesday, according to Reuters journalists at the airport.
Some 36 Italians, as well as four Bulgarians, two Austrians, and one citizen each from the United Kingdom, Niger, Nigeria, Hungary, and Senegal were on the plane, as well as military personnel.
There were also 21 United States citizens, a number of whom were part of an evangelical Christian group from Texas, according to the Italian Foreign Ministry.
France is expected to operate more evacuation flights on Wednesday.
The recent coups in the region have come amid a wave of rising anti-French sentiment that resulted in the withdrawal of French troops from Mali and Burkina Faso this year and last.
Many of those soldiers are now stationed in Niger.
The United States, Germany, and Italy also have troops in Niger on counterinsurgency and training missions. There has been no announcement of troops being evacuated.