France’s Macron moans over coup on his Niger henchman, calls for restoration

Ousted Niger President Mohamed Bazoum and Macron
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PARIS, (Reuters) – France on Thursday called for the release and restoration of Niger President Mohamed Bazoum after what it said was a “power grab” in a country vital to its remaining military interests in the Sahel region.

In recent months France has been forced to redefine the country’s strategy to fight Islamist militants in the Sahel after thousands of troops completed a withdrawal from Mali and Burkina Faso.

Coups in Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso have weakened France’s alliances in its former colonies, emboldened jihadists who control large swathes of desert and scrubland, and opened the door to greater Russian influence.

“We call for the respect and immediate restoration of the integrity of democratic institutions in Niger,” France’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

“We support regional efforts to find an urgent solution to the crisis that respects Niger’s democratic framework and allows the immediate restoration of civil authority.”

A French diplomatic source said Paris remained in contact with Bazoum and that the situation on the ground was still “very confused.”

France’s strategy has centred on sending troops to Niger, which it has considered its main ally in the region and the best launch pad for operations against militants in the border regions connecting Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Niger is also vital for France to monitor activities in the desert areas bordering Libya where traffickers and militants have for years exploited the relative absence of the state.

Losing Niger’s support would leave Paris with few remaining options and most likely lead to it being forced to withdrew its forces, diplomats and analysts said.

In apparent support of the mutineers, Niger’s chief of staff said the army had “decided to adhere to the … declaration” made by soldiers who announced in a late night televised address that they had stripped Bazoum of power.

France has about 1,000 to 1,500 troops based in the country supported with drones and warplanes. A further 1,000 troops are in neighbouring Chad, where Paris has been less critical of a delayed transition to civilian rule after a 2021 coup.

However, unlike in the past the role of the French troops is solely to support Niger’s forces when they identify operations.

Paris has sought to make its military less visible in an effort to defuse tensions in West Africa amid the growing wave of resentment towards the former colonial power and its influence in the Sahel.

Some protesters in Niamey on Thursday waved Russian flags and chanted anti-French slogans.

Echoing similar incidents in Mali and Burkina Faso in the past, a member of the mutineers accused France of landing a military aircraft in the country on Thursday morning despite an airspace closure imposed overnight.

The French diplomatic source said the plane had left in the night before the closures were announced and had received a pre-approved flight plan from the airport’s military officials.

According to the French army’s website the last joint operation between the French and Niger militaries was carried out at the end of May and in early June.