France will evacuate French and European citizens from Niger on Tuesday, days after a junta seized power in the west of the African country, according to the French foreign ministry.
President Mohamed Bazoum was overthrown last Wednesday, marking the eighth military coup in West and Central Africa in less than three years. This upheaval pitted Russia and other regional junta leaders against longtime Western allies of Niger.
Previous colonial power While France has been fighting an Islamist insurgency in the area with troops for a decade, some people said they want the former colonial power to quit intervening in their affairs.
On Sunday, junta supporters burned French flags and attacked the French embassy in Niger’s capital, Niamey, prompting police to fire volleys of tear gas in response.
“Considering the situation in Niamey, the violence against our embassy the day before yesterday and the fact that the air space is shut and our citizens cannot leave by their means, France is preparing the evacuation of its citizens and (other) European citizens who want to leave the country,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The evacuation will start today,” it said.
The protest in front of the embassy and the claims that France fired shots into the crowd, which France rejects, “have all the usual ingredients of destabilisation, the Russian-African way,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said on BFM TV late Monday.
The Russian Wagner mercenary company leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, praised the coup in Niger last week and said his forces were available to restore order.
The coup has sparked worries about the Sahel’s security. The radioactive metal uranium, used to create nuclear energy and treat cancer, is produced in the world’s seventh-largest quantity in Niger.
Bazoum is still imprisoned in his palace, and the regional group ECOWAS has imposed sanctions, including a halt to all financial transactions and a national asset freeze, and threatened to use force to bring him out. At the same time, neighbouring countries, including Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea, supported the coup.