As European nations evacuate and coup leaders receive support from other juntas, the crisis in Niger escalates.

As European nations evacuate and coup leaders receive support from other juntas, the crisis in Niger escalates.

As European nations evacuate and coup leaders receive support from other juntas, the crisis in Niger escalates. France, Italy, and Spain announced Tuesday that their citizens and other European nationals would be evacuated from Niger out of concern that they could become trapped by a military coup supported by three other West African nations governed by mutinous soldiers.

The French Foreign Ministry cited recent attacks on its embassy in the capital city of Niamey as one of the reasons for its decision to offer evacuation flights to several hundred of its citizens and other Europeans. It stated that the suspension of Niger’s airspace prevents citizens from leaving the country alone.

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Spain’s Defense Ministry announced that preparations were being made to evacuate more than seventy nationals, and Italy also announced that flight arrangements were being made. The German foreign office advised its citizens to embrace France’s offer to fly them out. The evacuations come amid a deepening crisis triggered by last week’s coup against Mohamed Bazoum, the democratically elected president of Niger. His apparent overthrow is a setback for Western nations that partnered with Niger to combat extremists in West Africa.

In hotels in Niamey, Europeans packed their luggage.

An ex-French military official who had been training the Nigerien army as a civilian told The Associated Press that he was leaving even though his “job is not finished.” He stated, on the condition of anonymity for security reasons, that the military seizure was sudden and caught many by surprise.

ECOWAS, a regional organization in West Africa, imposed travel and economic sanctions on Niger on Sunday and threatened to use force if the coup leaders do not reinstate Bazoum within a week. However, the Mali and Burkina Faso military administrations supported the new junta. They stated that “any military intervention against Niger will be considered a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali.”

The two nations also condemned the economic sanctions imposed by ECOWAS as “illegal, illegitimate, and inhumane” and refused to implement them.

The Economic Community of West African States suspended all commercial and financial transactions between its member states and Niger and froze all Nigerien assets held in regional central institutions. More than 25 million people in Niger rely primarily on foreign aid, and sanctions could further impoverish them.

Mali and Burkina Faso have each experienced two coups since 2020, with soldiers claiming they could better combat rising jihadi violence connected to al-Qaida and the Islamic State. ECOWAS has sanctioned both nations and suspended them from the organization but has never threatened to use force against them.

Guinea, which has also been ruled by the military since 2021, stated support of Niger’s junta and implored ECOWAS to “come to its senses.” Since the 1990s, the 15-nation ECOWAS has attempted, with varying degrees of success, to defend democracies from the threat of coups.

The evacuations followed violence against the French Embassy on Sunday, during which demonstrators burned down a door and smashed windows before being dispersed by the Nigerien army. Thousands of pro-junta supporters flooded the streets of Niamey. Some displayed Russian flags and signs reading “Down with France” while supporting Vladimir Putin and warning the international community to stay away.

There is no obvious explanation for the references to Russia, but some demonstrators view them as symbolic of their anti-Western sentiments.

Analysts believe that Niger could be following in the footsteps of Mali and Burkina Faso, where demonstrators waved Russian flags following coups.

Some argue that the revolt in Niger could also encourage jihadist violence.

A former member of an al-Qaeda-affiliated group known as JNIM, Boubacar Moussa, stated that the jihadists desire a military coup because it will weaken and divert the military. “Jihadists are very supportive of the Niger coup because it will allow them to become very powerful,” he stated. Moussa, who spoke with the Associated Press in Niamey, participates in a nationwide program to bring back jihadis, reintegrate them into society, and use their assistance in counterterrorism efforts. Bazoum conceived it during his tenure as interior minister as an alternative to a military solution to halt violence across the nation. The AP cannot confirm that Moussa fought actively for JNIM.

According to Niger analysts, the use of force by ECOWAS could spark violence between civilians who support the rebellion and those who oppose it.

A Western diplomat in Niamey, who did not wish to be identified for security reasons, stated that the initial sanctions against the coup plotters were ineffective, so the decision has been made to employ military force, which could involve troops from Nigeria, Benin, and Ivory Coast. The diplomat stated that gas and food could run out rapidly in Niger if imports are shut off.

Observers believe that Bazoum is being detained in his Niamey residence. The first images of him since the coup showed him seated on a couch and smiling alongside Chad’s president, who had flown in to mediate between the government and the junta.

In recent years, both the United States and France have sent personnel and tens of millions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid to Niger, which was a colony of France until 1960. Many people in the capital reside in makeshift shelters and struggle daily to earn enough money to support their children. In a Francophone region where anti-French sentiment paved the way for the Russian private military group Wagner, Niger was viewed as the last ally working with the West against extremism.

Monday, the State Department announced that the United States will contemplate cutting aid if the coup is successful. Department spokesman Matt Miller states that aid is “very much dependent on the outcome of the country’s actions.” U.S. aid is contingent on the continuation of democratic governance in Niger.

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