The presidency of Niger reported that the army is prepared to respond to the members of the Presidential Guard who took control of President Mohamed Bazoum’s official residence and the presidential palace. In a brief statement on social media, the presidency assured that President Bazoum and his family are safe.
However, an earlier statement mentioning an “anti-Republican” movement by elements of the Presidential Guard, which failed to gather support, was later removed. The situation escalated as President Bazoum was detained by “coup plotters” attempting to seize power by force, according to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which joined the African Union, Algeria, and Nigeria in urging the soldiers to abandon the attempted power grab.
Witnesses reported the presence of several armed pickup trucks outside the public broadcaster ORTN in the capital city, Niamey.
Niger holds strategic importance in the fight against jihadists and armed groups in the West African Sahel region, at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. Both France and the US have a significant military presence in the country to combat the threats posed by these groups.
“I spoke with President Bazoum earlier this morning and made clear that the United States resolutely supports him as the democratically elected president,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to New Zealand on Thursday. “We call for his immediate release. We condemn any effort to seize power by force.”
The country is among the world’s biggest uranium producers, with most of its output exported to France, according to the World Nuclear Association. It produced 2,020 tons of the metal last year. An oil pipeline to neighboring Benin is set to come online later this year.
Bazoum came to power in 2021 in what was widely seen as the first democratic transfer of power since independence from France in 1960. His election took place just days after the security forces thwarted an attempt by an army unit to seize the presidential palace.
There have been five successful coups since 2020 in West Africa, a region wracked by the growing influence of violent extremists and food insecurity brought about by climate change, including two in neighboring Mali and and two in Burkina Faso.
“It should be quite clear to all players in the Republic of Niger that the leadership of the Ecowas region and all lovers of democracy around the world will not tolerate any situation that incapacitates the democratically elected government of the country,” Nigeria’s government said in a statement.