Calm pervades Niger’s capital as deadline to reverse coup expires

NIAMEY (Reuters): Niger’s capital was calm on Sunday, with citizens appearing to pay little heed to the threat of military intervention by West Africa’s regional bloc, as its ultimatum for the country’s coup leaders to reinstate the president expires.

On Niamey’s streets there were sporadic signs of support for the junta, which has said it will not bow to external pressure to stand down following the July 26 power grab.

The seventh coup in West and Central Africa in three years has rocked the western Sahel region, one of the poorest in the world and which has strategic significance for Russia, China and the West.

Around 100 people set up a picket line near an air base in Niamey and pledged to offer non-violent resistance in support of the new military administration if needed.

Defence chiefs of the Economic Community of West African States agreed on military action on July 30, including when and where to strike, if the detained President, Mohamed Bazoum, was not released and reinstated by Sunday.

Looming hardships linked to ECOWAS sanctions have also been flagged in power cuts and soaring prices for basic foods, but many locals appear undeterred.

“I am not worried because I know that any military intervention by ECOWAS in Niger would be a loss for this organisation. It is not in the interest of its leaders.” said 59-year-old housewife Hadjo Hadjia in a mostly empty street of the capital on Sunday morning.

Wedding celebrations across the city, usually held at weekends, continued as usual, with several processions of elaborately dressed marriage parties witnessed on Saturday.

ECOWAS did not respond to a request for comment on what its next steps would be, or when exactly on Sunday its deadline expires.

The bloc’s pledge has triggered fears of further conflict in a region that is already battling a deadly Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and forced millions to flee.

Support for Niger’s coup leaders from fellow juntas in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso could undermine the regional response. Both countries have said they would come to Niger’s defence.

France said on Saturday it would support efforts to overturn the coup, without specifying whether its backing would entail military assistance for an ECOWAS intervention, while Bazoum’s Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou said the ousted regime still believed a last-minute agreement was possible.