Hours after troopers seized energy within the West African nation of Niger, the nation’s ousted president sounded a defiant notice on Thursday morning, vowing to guard his “arduous received” democratic features, whilst he was being held hostage within the presidential palace by his personal guards.
However his military chief poured chilly water on such hopes, saying in a press release that the military was backing the mutineers to keep away from bloodshed and forestall infighting among the many safety forces.
The navy command was supporting the ouster of Mr. Bazoum “to keep away from a lethal confrontation between the completely different forces which may provoke a blood bathtub and impinge on the safety of the inhabitants,” Gen. Abdou Sikikou Issa, the military chief, mentioned within the assertion.
If the coup holds, will probably be West Africa’s sixth navy takeover in lower than three years, following within the footsteps of Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso. It might even be a severe blow to democracy efforts in a area that’s quickly regaining its undesirable status because the “coup belt” of Africa.
Mr. Bazoum, elected two years in the past in Niger’s first peaceable switch of energy, has been a key Western ally towards surging Islamist militancy within the Sahel, an arid area tormented by the ravages of local weather change and the failure of fragile states to supply alternatives for his or her exploding, youthful populations.
By Thursday night, 36 hours after Mr. Bazoum disappeared from public view, energy nonetheless hung within the steadiness in Niger, though his probabilities of reversing the coup seemed to be receding. Earlier within the day, an enormous sandstorm rolled via the abandoned streets of Niamey, the place companies remained closed, including to the sense of uncertainty.
A few of Mr. Bazoum’s minister clung to hopes the coup might be reversed. “Every little thing may be achieved via dialogue,” the overseas minister, Hassoumi Massaoudou, advised France24.
However the troopers holding the president, who referred to as themselves the Nationwide Council for the Safeguarding of the Nation, made it clear they meant to press forward with their plan.
After asserting on Wednesday that Niger’s borders could be closed, the federal government suspended and a nighttime curfew imposed, on Thursday the troopers suspended all political exercise within the nation.
One notable exception to that ban: Lots of of people that gathered to assist the coup-makers in entrance of the nationwide Parliament — the identical location the place a crowd of comparable dimension got here out for Mr. Bazoum on Wednesday. A few of the coup supporters waved Russian flags. The scene was harking back to the January 2022 coup in neighboring Burkina Faso, the place the navy has have moved nearer to Moscow in current months.
One distinguished determine in Russia appeared to view the coup as a chance.
In an audio assertion, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the mercenary chief whose Wagner non-public navy firm has spearheaded the Kremlin’s push into Africa lately, characterised the coup in Niger as “a battle by the folks of Niger towards their colonizers.”
Mr. Prigozhin, in a prolonged tirade, claimed that “colonizers” — an obvious reference to troopers from France — needed to maintain Nigeriens “within the situations that have been in Africa lots of of years in the past.”
Mr. Prigozhin’s assertion extra carefully resembled a enterprise pitch: If overseas troopers couldn’t convey order to Niger, he mentioned, Wagner’s fighter may “result in order” and defend civilians from terrorists.
Mr. Bazoum is relying partly on his Western allies to get via the disaster. In a name on Wednesday night, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken assured the beleaguered chief that he had Washington’s “unconditional assist.”
The US has not less than 1,100 American troops and two drone bases in Niger, a cornerstone of the American marketing campaign towards Islamist militants within the Sahel. U.S. forces in Niger have been ordered to remain on their bases or headquarters except it’s an emergency, mentioned a U.S. navy official talking on situation of anonymity.
Mr. Bazoum was freely elected two years in the past within the nation’s first peaceable democratic switch of energy since independence from France in 1960.
As Islamist militant teams unfold throughout the Sahel area lately, some primarily based in Niger’s distant deserts, neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso turned to mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner non-public navy firm to assist push them again. However Mr. Bazoum caught with France and the USA.
The coup had caught many abruptly.
A senior West African intelligence official mentioned he was struggling to know why the troopers have been disgruntled with Mr. Bazoum, given his concentrate on rising Niger’s economic system and its navy power. Like a number of different officers, he declined to be named as a result of he wasn’t approved to talk publicly.
Others pointed to indicators of tensions contained in the navy. Rumors had been circulating for months that Mr. Bazoum meant to fireplace Omar Tchiani, the commander of the presidential guard, mentioned J. Peter Pham, a former particular U.S. envoy to the Sahel. The presidential guard is the department that surrounded the palace on Wednesday and detained the president inside.
Rivalries contained in the armed forces have been additionally an element, Mr. Pham mentioned. Nigerien particular forces skilled by the USA, France and their allies have emerged as a brand new elite inside Niger’s navy, and they’re thought of particularly near Mr. Bazoum, he mentioned.
However the rise of the particular forces was a supply of resentment amongst extra conventional navy models, just like the presidential guard — and when the mutineers started to maneuver on Wednesday, the particular forces models have been stationed removed from the capital, unable to rally to Mr. Bazoum’s protection, Mr. Pham mentioned.
The leaders of West Africa’s remaining democracies, alarmed by the flurry of navy coups of their yard, nonetheless hope they will persuade the coup plotters to return to their barracks. President Patrice Talon of Benin was scheduled to reach in Niamey on Thursday for mediation talks on behalf of ECOWAS, West Africa’s financial bloc.
However Mr. Talon’s whereabouts remained unclear late Thursday, and a spokesman for his authorities didn’t reply to requests for remark.
Michael R. Shurkin, a former C.I.A. analyst now on the Atlantic Council, a nonprofit group in Washington mentioned that Mr. Bazoumhad been “a great accomplice for Western powers” — competent, pragmatic about safety, attentive to governance and financial points, and democratically elected.
“It’s a horrible blow to the area,” he mentioned.
Omar Hama Saley contributed reporting from Niamey, Niger and Paul Sonne from Berlin.