Niger crisis deepens as France plans evacuation

Niyamey, Aug 2:  France prepared to evacuate French and other European nationals from Niger on Tuesday, telling them to carry no more than a small bag, after a military coup there won backing from three other West African nations ruled by mutinous soldiers. The French Foreign Ministry in Paris cited recent violence that targeted the French Embassy in Niamey, the capital, as one of the reasons for the decision. The closure of Niger’s airspace also “leaves our compatriots unable to leave the country by their own means,” the ministry said. The evacuation comes during a deepening crisis sparked by the coup last week against Niger’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum. The evacuation was starting Tuesday for French and other European citizens who wish to leave Niger, the French ministry said in a statement. It gave no other details. It estimates that several hundred French citizens are currently in Niger, a former French colony. In hotels in the capital, French and other European citizens, including some who have worked in the country for years, packed their bags awaiting news of where and when the evacuation would happen.
“My job is not finished, I hope the situation will finish and one day soon we can come back,” a former French military official who is now training the Nigerien army as a civilian told The Associated Press. “This happened very quickly and no one saw this coming. I was really surprised,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons. The West African regional body known as ECOWAS announced travel and economic sanctions against Niger on Sunday and said it could use force if the coup leaders don’t reinstate Bazoum within one week. Bazoum’s government was one of the West’s last democratic partners against West African extremists. In a joint statement, the military governments of Mali and Burkina Faso said that “any military intervention against Niger will be considered as a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali.” Col. Abdoulaye Maiga, Mali’s state minister for territorial administration and decentralization, read the statement on Malian state TV Monday evening. The two countries also denounced the ECOWAS economic sanctions as “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane” and refused to apply them.