Supporters of the junta display flags during a rally at a stadium in Niamey, Niger, 26 August 2023. EFE/EPA/ISSIFOU DJIBO

Hundreds of protesters gather around French military base in Niger

Niamey, Aug 27 (EFE).- Hundreds of protesters gathered near a French military base in Niger’s capital Niamey on Sunday to demand the withdrawal of French troops from the African country.

Efe verified that protesters, mostly young people, gathered near the 101 air base near the Diori Hamani airport where French air forces have been based since 2013 as part of a French anti-terrorist operation dubbed Barkhane.

Protesters demanded the “immediate” withdrawal of French troops from the country, while also urging the removal of French ambassador Sylvain Itté after the diplomat was on Friday given 48 hours to leave Niger by the country’s military junta, which seized power on July 26.

France replied to the order through a statement issued by its foreign ministry saying: “The putschists do not have the authority to make this request, the ambassador’s approval coming solely from the legitimate elected Nigerien authorities.”

Demonstrators at Sunday’s protest chanted slogans against the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) which has decreed harsh economic sanctions against Niger and has threatened military action against the coup leaders if they refuse to re-establish constitutional order.

Heavy security has been deployed for weeks at the French military base where Nigerien troops prevented several demonstrators from climbing the walls around the compound.

“France is a leech that sucks the blood of Nigeriens,” one placard read as demonstrators hoisted Russia, Burkina Faso and Mali flags, which have all spoken out against military intervention in Niger.

Paris has important economic interests in the former colony where some 1,500 French military personnel are stationed to assist in efforts to fight Islamic terrorism.

Since seizing power, the ruling military junta — which has dubbed itself the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) — has broken all defense and security agreements with France and accused France of having “a destabilization plan” for Niger.

Niger has been in the midst of political turmoil since President Mohamed Bazoum was ousted and Niger’s constitution was suspended.

Shortly after the military coup, Gen Abdourahmane Tchiani declared himself the leader of a transitional government saying the policies of the deposed president in the realms of security, economy and social issues were “incoherent and ineffective”.

An anti-French sentiment has swept the Sahel region in recent years linked to a regional security crisis that first spread to Mali and Burkina Faso — both of whom are ruled by military juntas and are currently allied with Moscow — before gaining ground in Niger. EFE