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ECOWAS: Niger Junta Has One Week to Reinstate President


FILE - Nigeria President Bola Ahmed Tinubu second from left, poses , for a group photograph with other West Africa leaders after a meeting in Abuja Nigeria, Sunday, July 30, 2023.

West African nations have given Niger's coup leaders one week to reinstate the country's democratically elected president, imposing travel and economic sanctions and threatening to use force if the demands aren't met.

Meanwhile, the military junta that seized power last week detained three more senior politicians from the ousted government on Monday, their party said, widening arrests in defiance of international calls to restore democratic rule.

President Mohamed Bazoum remains under house arrest and has yet to resign.

The announcement of sanctions came at the end of an emergency meeting of West African countries Sunday in Nigeria, where the regional bloc, known as ECOWAS, convened to respond to last week's military takeover.

“In the event the authority’s demands are not met within one week, (the bloc will) take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger. Such measures may include the use of force,” said the statement.

The bloc also imposed strict sanctions, including suspending all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS member states and Niger and freezing of assets in regional central banks.

Economic sanctions could have a deep impact on Nigeriens, who live in the third-poorest country in the world, according to the latest United Nations data. The country relies on imports from Nigeria for up to 90% of its power, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

The sanctions could be disastrous and Niger needs to find a solution to avoid them, Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou told French media outlet Radio France Internationale on Sunday.

“When people say there’s an embargo, land borders are closed, air borders are closed, it’s extremely difficult for people ... Niger is a country that relies heavily on the international community,” he said.

The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc has unsuccessfully tried to restore democracies in nations where the military took power in recent years. Four nations are run by military governments in West and Central Africa, where there have been nine successful or attempted coups since 2020.

In the 1990s, ECOWAS intervened in Liberia during its civil war. In 2017, it intervened in Gambia to prevent the new president’s predecessor, Yahya Jammeh, from disrupting the handover of power. Around 7,000 troops from Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal entered, according to the Global Observatory, which provides analysis on peace and security issues.

If the regional bloc uses force, it could trigger violence not only between Niger and ECOWAS forces but also civilians supporting the coup and those against it, Niger analysts say.

“While this remains to be a threat and unlikely action, the consequences on civilians of such an approach if putschists chose confrontation would be catastrophic," said Rida Lyammouri, senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank.

"I believe economic sanctions are the ones to be imposed, but don’t see a military intervention happening because of the violence that could trigger," he said.

On Sunday, junta spokesman Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane said on state television that all government cars need to be returned by midday Monday and banned the use of social media to diffuse messages against state security. He also claimed that Bazoum’s government had authorized the French to carry out strikes to free Bazoum. The Associated Press can't verify his allegations.

In anticipation of the ECOWAS decision Sunday, thousands of pro-junta supporters took to the streets in the capital, Niamey, denouncing its former colonial ruler, France, waving Russian flags and telling the international community to stay away.

Demonstrators in Niger are openly resentful of France, and Russia is seen by some as a powerful alternative. The nature of Moscow's involvement in the rallies, if any, isn’t clear, but some protesters have carried Russian flags, along with signs reading “Down with France” and supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On Monday, coup leaders accused former colonial ruler France of wanting to "intervene militarily" to reinstate deposed Bazoum.

"In its search for ways and means to intervene militarily in Niger, France with the complicity of some Nigeriens, held a meeting with the chief of staff of the Nigerien national guard to obtain the necessary political and military authorization needed," said a statement read out on national television.

In another statement, the putschists accused the security services of an unnamed Western embassy of firing teargas Sunday on pro-coup demonstrators in the capital Niamey.

It said six people had been hospitalized after the incident.

French President Emmanuel Macron had Sunday vowed "immediate" action if French citizens or interests were attacked in Niger, after thousands of Nigeriens rallied outside the French embassy.

"The situation of this country is not good ... It’s time for change, and change has arrived," said Moussa Seydou, a protester. "What we want from the putschists — all they have to do is improve social conditions so that Nigeriens can live better in this country and bring peace,” he said.

Information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.