Niger coup: French-European citizen’s first rescue flight arrives in Paris


The first plane carrying French and other European citizens evacuated from Niger landed in Paris on Wednesday, a week after a coup toppled one of the last pro-Western leaders in the jihadist-ravaged Sahel. President Mohamed Bazoum was detained by his presidential guard in the third coup in three years in the Sahel, following attacks in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, also former French colonies.

West African leaders have threatened to use force to restore the democratically elected Bazoum and imposed financial sanctions on the junta. The military chiefs of countries in the major regional bloc ECOWAS will meet in Nigeria’s capital Abuja from Wednesday to Friday to discuss the overthrow. Paris said on Tuesday it would withdraw its citizens from the capital Niamey after anti-French protests began after the coup.

By Wednesday morning about 500 people had reached Paris, mostly French nationals, but also including Portuguese, Belgians, Nigerians, Ethiopians and Lebanese. Bernard, who had been working in Niger for the European Union for two months, said “the evacuation was well organized, it was quick, everything went well for me”. “In Niamey, there is no particular tension in the city, no particular pressure, people are engaged in their work,” he said.

Italian authorities also said they had evacuated about 100 foreigners living in Niger, who arrived in Rome early Wednesday, ANSA radio reported, adding that they included 36 Italians and 21 Americans. Germany has urged its citizens to leave, but the United States – which has 1,100 troops stationed in Niger – has chosen not to evacuate Americans for the time being. The coup has raised alarm bells in France, Niger’s former colonial master and traditional ally.

Paris attributed the evacuation to “violence against our embassy” and the “risk of airspace closure” that would make it impossible for our compatriots to leave. However, the Niger junta announced late Tuesday that it had reopened the country’s land and air borders with five neighbouring countries. It is the first time that France has organized a large-scale evacuation of its former colonies in the Sahel.

However, France’s army chief announced that the withdrawal of Paris’ 1,500 troops in Niger was “not on the agenda”. On Sunday the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions on Niger and warned it could use force as it gave coup leaders a week to restore Bazoum. The next day, the junta accused France of attempting to “intervene militarily”, which France denied, while junta-ruled Mali and Burkina Faso warned that any military intervention in Niger would constitute a “war of war” against them. announcement”. A delegation of the West African bloc led by former Nigerian President Abdulsalami Abubakar is scheduled to visit Niger on Wednesday.

Dramatic events are unfolding in one of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries – a vast semi-desert country that has already experienced four coups since independence in 1960. The coup has alarmed Western nations against the backdrop of a jihadist insurgency that erupted in northern Mali in 2012, spread to Niger and Burkina Faso three years later and now dominates the fragile Gulf of Guinea states. Countless civilians, soldiers and police have been killed across the region, many in brutal massacres, while some 2.2 million people have fled their homes in Burkina Faso alone. The economic damage has been devastating. At one point France had about 5,400 troops in the anti-jihad Barkhane mission in the Sahel, supported by fighter jets, helicopters and drones.

In all three Sahel countries, disgruntled militaries intervened against elected presidents as the death toll from jihadist attacks mounted. Bazoum was felicitated after winning an election in 2021 that would usher in the first peaceful transition of power in Niger. But his tenure was already marked by two coup attempts before the dramatic events of last week, in which he was detained by members of the elite presidential guard. Guards chief General Abdourahmane Tiyani has declared himself leader – but his claim has been rejected internationally.

European citizensFrench-European citizensniger coupNiger coup: French-European citizens rescue flight arrives in ParisParis