Hundreds of people backing last week’s removal of Niger’s democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum by his presidential guard have gathered for a mass rally in the capital, Niamey, with some brandishing giant Russian flags.
The demonstrators converged at Independence Square in the heart of the city on Thursday, following a call by a coalition of civil society associations on a day marking the 63rd anniversary of the country’s independence from France.
Issiaka Hamadou, one of the demonstrators, said that it was “only security that interests us,” irrespective of whether it came from “Russia, China, Turkey, if they want to help us”.
“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.
Another of the demonstrators in Niamey held a placard that said: “Long live Niger, Russia, Mali and Burkina. Down with France, ECOWAS, EU.”
France has some 1,500 troops in Niger fighting armed groups in the Sahel.
The coup has triggered sanctions by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and condemnation from the African Union, United Nations and Western countries.
But coup leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani remained defiant on Wednesday, saying he “refuses to give in to any threats, wherever they come from”.
Earlier on Thursday, United States President Joe Biden called for the immediate release of Bazoum and his family, and for the country’s democracy to be preserved.
“In this critical moment, the United States stands with the people of Niger to honour our decades-long partnership rooted in shared democratic values and support for civilian-led governance,” he said.
“The Nigerien people have the right to choose their leaders,” Biden said. “They have expressed their will through free and fair elections- and that must be respected.”
The removal of Bazoum, 63, has also been criticised by Russia which said the situation was “cause for serious concern”. The Kremlin’s comments came days after Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin appeared to show support for the coup.
Bazoum’s victory in the 2021 elections that ushered in Niger’s first peaceful transition of power was seen as a new start for a country that had seen four previous coup attempts since independence from France in 1960.
With ECOWAS demanding on Sunday that the coup leaders restore Bazoum to power within a week or face the possible “last resort” of military intervention, and also a violent demonstration outside the French embassy, European countries have been evacuating their nationals.
During the rally, the windows of the mission were smashed and the crowds chanted anti-French slogans.
Nearly 1,000 people were evacuated to France in an evacuation operation, a group made up mostly of French citizens but which also included other nationals from the United States and Germany.
France has also asked Niger’s new military government to “fully guarantee” the safety of its embassy in Niamey ahead of Thursday’s protests in the capital.
The foreign ministry said it had asked Nigerien security forces to take the necessary measures to ensure that “the security of foreign diplomatic rights of way and diplomatic personnel” are guaranteed, adding that these were “obligations under international law, especially under the Vienna Convention”.
On Wednesday, Tchiani said French citizens “have no objective reason to leave Niger” and that they “did not face the slightest threat”.