Niger coup supporters protest West African military force

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Thousands of Niger coup supporters took to the streets on Friday to protest against plans by West African nations to deploy a military force to the country, as a key regional meeting on a possible intervention was scrapped.

ECOWAS had approved a “standby force” to reinstate elected President Mohamed Bazoum, with the EU’s top diplomat expressing concern about his conditions in detention since he was ousted by members of his guard on July 26.

Chiefs of staff from member states of the West African bloc had been set to attend a meeting on Saturday in Ghana’s capital Accra, regional military sources had said on Friday.

But they later said the meeting had been suspended indefinitely for “technical reasons”.

The sources said the meeting was originally set up to inform the organisation’s leaders about “the best options” for activating and deploying the standby force.

ECOWAS has yet to provide details on the force or a timetable for action, and the leaders have emphasised they still want a peaceful solution.

The last-minute cancellation came as thousands of coup supporters rallied near a French military base in Niger on Friday.

Protesters near the base on the outskirts of the capital Niamey shouted “Down with France, down with ECOWAS”.

Niger’s new leaders have accused former colonial power France, a close Bazoum ally, of being behind the hardline ECOWAS stance against the coup.

Many protesters brandished Russian and Niger flags and shouted their support for the country’s new strongman, General Abdourahamane Tiani.

“We are going to make the French leave! ECOWAS isn’t independent, it’s being manipulated by France,” said one demonstrator, Aziz Rabeh Ali, a member of a students’ union.

France has around 1,500 troops in Niger as part of a force battling an eight-year jihadist insurgency.

It is facing growing hostility across the Sahel, withdrawing its anti-jihadist forces from neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso last year after falling out with military governments that ousted elected leaders.

Niger’s new leaders scrapped defence agreements with France last week, while a hostile protest outside the French embassy in Niamey on July 30 prompted Paris to evacuate its citizens.

– Fears for Bazoum –

The European Union and the African Union joined others in sounding the alarm for Bazoum on Friday.

“Bazoum and his family, according to the latest information, have been deprived of food, electricity and medical care for several days,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

UN rights chief Volker Turk said Bazoum’s reported detention conditions “could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of international human rights law”.

The AU said “such treatment of a democratically elected president” was “unacceptable”.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that the “coup plotters must face harsh consequences should anything happen” to Bazoum or his family.

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken said he was “dismayed” by the military’s refusal to release Bazoum’s family as a “demonstration of goodwill”.

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