Niger’s General Abdourahamane Tchiani declared new leader following coup

NIAMEY, Niger (AFP): Tchiani, the head of the Presidential Guard, has been named “president of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland”, a statement said.

Appearing on state television, the general said soldiers had seized power due to the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel country.

The general said that while Niger’s elected President Mohamed Bazoum had sought to convince people that “all is going well … the harsh reality (is) a pile of dead, displaced, humiliation and frustration”.

“The security approach today has not brought security to the country despite heavy sacrifices,” he said.

Armed forces chief General Abdou Sidikou Issa had on Thursday swung his weight behind the putschists saying it was “in order to avoid a deadly confrontation”.

A coalition of parties opposed to Bazoum called for a show of support Friday for the “motivations” of the putschists “while disapproving of all change by force”.

Bazoum has been detained by the putschists since Wednesday morning.
‘Illegitimate and profoundly dangerous’

French President Emmanuel Macron earlier on Friday described the coup as “dangerous” for the region as Western powers scrambled to preserve a key ally in the insurgent-stricken Sahel.

“This coup is completely illegitimate and profoundly dangerous, for Nigeriens, for Niger and for the whole region,” Macron said.

Macron said he had spoken to Bazoum, who is being held in his palace, and called for him to be reinstated.

The French president also said that Bazoum is in good health.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna had earlier Friday held out hope for Bazoum’s position as president.

“If you hear me talking about an attempted coup, it’s because we don’t consider things final,” she had said. “There is still a way out if those responsible listen to the international community.”

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) would hold a summit “probably on Sunday”, where “possible sanctions could be decided”, Colonna said.

ECOWAS has demanded Bazoum’s “immediate release”, saying he “remains the legitimate and legal President of Niger”.

Security challenges

Niger’s government had been seen by many in the international community as a bulwark against Islamist militancy in a vast, arid region that is beset by security challenges.

63-year-old Bazoum 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.

The putschists on Thursday urged “the population to remain calm” after young men ransacked Bazoum’s PNDS party headquarters, setting fire to vehicles.

They had split off from a group of 1,000 people, mostly youngsters, who had demonstrated in the capital.

Some held Russian flags and chanted anti-French and pro-Moscow slogans.

“We want the same thing as in Mali and Burkina Faso,” shouted 19-year-old student Alassane Alhousseini.

“We want to take our destiny in our own hands.”

French and UN troops were in recent years forced to withdraw from neighbouring Mali, but Paris still has 1,500 soldiers in Niger. Bazoum’s overthrow could put the future of their deployment in doubt.