Junta supporters rally in Niger as Ecowas deadline looms

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Thousands gathered at Niger’s national stadium on Sunday in support of the military junta as a seven-day deadline, set by the Economic Community of West African States, for coup leaders to return the deposed president Mohamed Bazoum loomed.

Abdel-Fatau Musah, Ecowas commissioner for political affairs, peace and security, said after a meeting of the bloc’s defence ministers on Friday that it still wanted “diplomacy to work” but warned that a plan to use military force was in place if that did not succeed.

“We are determined to stop it, but Ecowas is not going to tell the coup plotters when and where we are going to strike,” Musah said. “That is an operational decision that will be taken by the heads of state.”

Sunday’s rally was held at the Gen Seyni Kountché stadium in the capital Niamey with thousands of jubilant supporters draped in national colours. Some waved Russian flags.

Supporters also carried portraits of members of the ruling National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) junta at a stadium named after the leader of a coup in 1974 that ousted the first president.

Gen Mohamed Toumba, one of the leaders of last month’s coup, told the crowd that people were “plotting subversion” against the “march forward”. Coup leaders were aware of a “Machiavellian” scheme, he said.

Omar Tchiani, who ran Bazoum’s presidential guard, seized power 10 days ago claiming that he had overthrown the government because of deteriorating security, economic hardship and corruption.

Ecowas issued a seven-day ultimatum for the putschists to return power to the democratically elected Bazoum after an emergency summit in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, last Sunday. Failure to do so would lead Ecowas, headed by Nigeria, Niger’s southern neighbour, to take all “measures necessary to restore constitutional order”, which “may include the use of force”.

Diplomatic efforts last week have failed to progress. Chad’s leader Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno met Bazoum, who remains under house arrest in his residence, and the coup leaders on Monday. But an Ecowas delegation on Thursday could not secure a meeting with the coup leaders or Bazoum.

Defence chiefs from Ecowas countries concluded their meeting in Abuja on Friday where they agreed on possible military intervention if a diplomatic solution could not be reached.

Bazoum’s ousted prime minister said in an interview that he was “hopeful” that the coup could still be reversed. Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, who was in Rome when the coup took place, said in Paris: “We expect President Bazoum to be released, reinstated and all institutions allegedly dissolved to be restored in their entirety.”

Ecowas has imposed sanctions on Niger. Nigeria, which supplies most of its electricity, has cut power, leading to long blackouts. Neighbouring countries have also closed borders, cutting off landlocked Niger from imports and exports. Food prices have risen.

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