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Niger coup: US offers ‘unflagging’ support to ousted leader as sanctions threatened

The United States will work to ensure full restoration of constitutional order in Niger after the military takeover, the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told the ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, in a phone call late on Friday, offering him his “unflagging support”.

The US is communicating with “a broad array” military leader in Niger, the state department said, after coup leaders declared Gen Abdourahamane Tchiani – the Nigerien military leader behind the detention of the country’s democratically elected president – the new head of state.

Tchiani, the head of the presidential guard since 2011, appeared on state television on Friday, saying he was the “president of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland” and warning that any foreign military intervention would lead to chaos.

The general, who has previously kept out of public life, presented the coup as a response to “the degradation of the security situation” linked to jihadist bloodshed.

On Friday, the UN security council condemned “the efforts to unconstitutionally change the legitimate government” and called for Bazoum’s immediate release.

The White House national security spokesperson, John Kirby, said Washington condemned any effort to seize power by force, warning a military takeover could cause the US to stop security and other cooperation with Niger.

The country in Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region is a key partner in the US fight against Islamist insurgents. US military personnel have been training local forces in Niger to fight militant groups.

US law on foreign aid prohibits most assistance to any country where the elected head of government has been deposed in a coup or by decree, unless the secretary of state determines that providing aid is in the national security interest of the United States.

There are about 1,100 US troops in Niger, where the US military operates from two bases. The Pentagon on Friday said the defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, was closely monitoring events.

Niger: chaos grips capital after military declares coup – video report

“At this time, there have been no changes in US force posture nor has DoD received any formal requests for assistance,” a defence department spokesperson said.

On Saturday, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, will chair a defence meeting on Niger. France has 1,500 troops in the west African nation, which is one of its last allies in the Sahel region, after French forces had to withdraw from neighbouring Mali earlier this year.

“This coup is completely illegitimate and profoundly dangerous, for Nigeriens, for Niger and for the whole region,” Macron said, while also calling for Bazoum’s release and “the restoration of constitutional order”.

The coup has prompted mounting concern in the region – the Kenyan president, William Ruto, called the army takeover “a serious setback” for Africa.

“The aspirations of the people of Niger for constitutional democracy were subverted by an unconstitutional change of government,” he said in a video message.

sahel map

West African leaders will meet on Sunday in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to discuss the coup, the Nigerian president, Bola Tinubu, said.

Bazoum and his family have been confined since Wednesday morning to their residence at the presidential palace, located within the 700-strong presidential guard’s military camp.

He is said to be in good health and has been able to talk by telephone to other heads of state.

Since gaining independence in 1960, Niger has had four coups, as well as numerous other attempts – including two previously against Bazoum.

The 63-year-old is one of a dwindling group of elected presidents and pro-western leaders in the Sahel, where a jihadist insurgency has triggered coups in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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