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Mutinous soldiers claim to have overthrown Niger’s president, borders closed and curfew imposed

Mutinous soldiers claimed to have overthrown Niger's democratically elected president, announcing on state television late Wednesday that they have put an end to the government over the African country's deteriorating security.

U.S. calls for president's immediate release amid possible coup

A group of men in camouflage uniforms stand behind a man in blue jacket, with military decorations on it, who is sitting at a table with a microphone in front of him.

Mutinous soldiers claim to have overthrown Niger's democratically elected president, announcing on state television late Wednesday that they have put an end to the government over the African country's deteriorating security.

The soldiers said all institutions had been suspended and security forces were managing the situation. They urged external partners not to interfere.

The announcement came after a day of uncertainty as members of Niger's presidential guard surrounded the presidential palace and detained President Mohamed Bazoum.

It was unclear where Bazoum was at the time of the announcement or if he had resigned.

"This is as a result of the continuing degradation of the security situation, the bad economic and social governance," air force Col. Major Amadou Abdramane said on the video.

Seated at a table in front of nine other officers, he said aerial and land borders were closed and a curfew was imposed until the situation stabilized.

The group, which is calling itself National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country, said it remained committed to its engagements with the international and national community.

Earlier Wednesday, a tweet from the account of Niger's presidency reported that members of the elite guard unit engaged in an "anti-Republican demonstration" and unsuccessfully tried to obtain support from other security forces.

It said Bazoum and his family were doing well but that Niger's army and national guard "are ready to attack" if those involved in the action did not back down.

Before the announcement, hundreds of people took to the streets of the capital, Niamey, and chanted "No coup d'etat" while marching in support of the president.

One person holds up a portrait of a man in a crowd of people outside of buildings in the background.

Multiple rounds of gunfire that appeared to come from the presidential palace dispersed the demonstrators and sent people scrambling for cover.

"We are here to show the people that we are not happy about this movement going on, just to show these military people that they can't just take the power like this," protester Mohammed Sidi said. "We are a democratic country, we support democracy and we don't need this kind of movement."

U.S. urges president's release

The international community strongly condemned the attempted seizure of power.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the immediate release of Bazoum.

"Whether this constitutes a coup technically or not, I can't say, that's for the lawyers to say, but what it clearly constitutes is an effort to seize power by force and to disrupt the constitution," Blinken told a news conference Thursday morning in Wellington, New Zealand.

He also urged U.S. citizens in the country to avoid affected areas.

Blinken earlier "conveyed the unwavering support" of the U.S. in a call with Bazoum, while he was being held by presidential guards inside his palace, the State Department said.

Two men stand together, smiling for cameras.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke to Bazoum on Wednesday afternoon and "expressed his full support and solidarity," a spokesperson tweeted.

Earlier, Guterres condemned any effort to seize power by force "in the strongest terms" and called on "all actors involved to exercise restraint and to ensure the protection of constitutional order," spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The African Union and West African regional bloc ECOWAS earlier on Wednesday condemned what they called an attempted coup d'etat.

Multiple government takeovers

The military takeover, which possibly marks the seventh coup in the West and Central Africa region since 2020, could further complicate Western efforts to help countries in the Sahel region fight a jihadist insurgency that has spread from Mali over the past decade.

Land-locked Niger, a former French colony, has become a pivotal ally for Western powers seeking to help fight the insurgencies, but they are facing growing acrimony from the new juntas in charge in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Niger is also a key ally of the European Union in the fight against irregular migration from sub-Saharan Africa.

France moved troops to Niger from Mali last year after its relations with interim authorities there soured. It has also withdrawn special forces from Burkina Faso amid similar tensions.

Bazoum's election was the first democratic transition of power in a state that has witnessed four military coups since independence from France in 1960. There was also a thwarted coup attempt in March 2021.

The United States says it has spent around $500 million since 2012 to help Niger boost its security. Germany announced in April that it would take part in a three-year European military mission aimed at improving the country's military.

"Bazoum has been the West's only hope in the Sahel region. France, the U.S. and the EU have spent much of their resources in the region to bolster Niger and its security forces," said Ulf Laessing, head of the Sahel program for Germany's Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung think-tank.

He said a coup would create an opportunity for Russia and other actors to spread their influence in Niger.

With files from Reuters

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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