West African leaders on Sunday gave the military coup leaders in Niger one week to cede power, warning they did not rule out the “use of force”, and imposed immediate financial sanctions.
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) demanded the “immediate release and reinstatement” of elected President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been held by the military since Wednesday.
“In the event the authorities’ demands are not met within one week (ECOWAS will) take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger. Such measures may include the use of force. For this effect, the chiefs of defence staff of ECOWAS are to meet immediately,” the bloc said in a statement after its summit in Abuja, Nigeria, on Sunday.
Niger’s coup military leaders warned against any armed intervention in the country.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, receiving close to $2 billion a year in official development assistance, according to the World Bank.
It is also a security partner of former colonial power France and the United States, which both use it as a base to fight a militant insurgency in West and Central Africa’s wider Sahel region.
The West African leaders could for the first time, consider a military intervention to restore President Mohamed Bazoum who was ousted when General Abdourahamane Tiani was declared the new head of state on Friday.
Protests in Niamey
Invited by the military leaders, over thousands of pro-coup leaders supporters took to the streets of the capital early on Sunday to show their support and reject any intervention by ECOWAS.
The protesters gathered in a public square in central Niamey and while some headed to the French Embassy, chanting anti-French slogans and hold placards some reading: “Down with France!” “France Out!”, according to a Reuters reporter.
Some youths threw stones at the embassy building before the protesters were dispersed by Niger national guard.
“We are here to express our discontent against France’s interference in Niger’s affairs. Niger is an independent and sovereign country, so France’s decisions have no influence on us,” said Sani Idrissa, one of the protesters.
The military junta later issued a call on Niger national television asking protesters to abstain from vandalism and destruction of public or private property.
Bazoum has not been heard from since early Thursday when he was confined within the presidential palace, although the European Union, France and others say they still recognise him as the legitimate president.
The European Union and France have cut off financial support to Niger and the United States has threatened to do the same.
After an emergency meeting on Friday, the African Union issued a statement demanding that the military return to their barracks and restore constitutional order within 15 days. It did not say what would happen after that.