Several thousand people have demonstrated in the capital of Niger in support of last month’s military coup, whose leader warned against outside intervention and proposed a three-year transition of power.
The demonstrators on Sunday chanted slogans hostile to former colonial power France and the West African regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is considering a potential military operation to reinstate elected President Mohamed Bazoum if ongoing negotiations with coup leaders fail.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
The Sahel state’s new military leaders have officially banned demonstrations, but in practice those in support of the coup are allowed to go ahead.
The demonstrators waved placards saying “Stop the military intervention” and “No to sanctions” in reference to financial and trade restrictions imposed by ECOWAS four days after the putsch on July 26.
The latest in a string of pro-coup rallies came a day after the new military ruler in Niamey warned an attack on Niger would not be a “walk in the park”.
General Abdourahmane Tchiani also said in a televised address on Saturday that he did not wish to “confiscate” power and a transition of power back to civilian rule would not go beyond three years.
Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said with the announcement of the three-year transition period by Tchiani that the “ball was in ECOWAS’s court”.
“The transition has defined the terms of the negotiations. If ECOWAS insists that the leaders have to return the government to the civilians and restore President Bazoum then we will likely see a military intervention,” he told Al Jazeera.
Niger’s new leaders have accused France, a close Bazoum ally, of being behind the anti-coup stance taken by ECOWAS, which on Saturday made a new push for a diplomatic solution.
After ECOWAS chiefs of staff met in the Ghanaian capital Accra on Friday, the 15-nation bloc said it agreed on a date for potential military action.
Despite its threat of intervention, ECOWAS sent a diplomatic delegation to Niamey on Saturday led by former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Niger television showed delegation members shaking hands with Bazoum, who remains in detention.
It also broadcast footage of Abubakar speaking to Tchiani, but the content of the exchange has not been made public.
In his televised address on Saturday, Tchiani alleged that ECOWAS was “getting ready to attack Niger by setting up an occupying army in collaboration with a foreign army”, without saying which country he meant.
“If an attack were to be undertaken against us, it will not be the walk in the park some people seem to think.”
Tchiani also announced a 30-day period of “national dialogue” to draw up “concrete proposals” to lay the foundations of “a new constitutional life”.
ECOWAS leaders say they have to act now that Niger has become the fourth West African nation since 2020 to suffer a coup, following Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali.
The bloc agreed to activate a “standby force” as a last resort to restore democracy in Niger.