Niger braced on Friday, September 1, for a weekend of planned anti-French rallies as tensions mount between the country’s new military rulers and its traditional ally.
A coalition of civil society groups opposed to the presence of French forces in Niger has called a three-day sit-in starting on Friday. The protest, organized by the M62 grouping, is set to take place in central Niamey to demand the departure of the French contingent.
France has around 1,500 troops in Niger, many stationed at an airbase near the capital, deployed to help fight a bloody jihadist insurgency. Separately, a “permanent” sit-in has also been called by another civil society group, the Patriotic Front for the Sovereignty of Niger.
Kicking off on Saturday, it will continue “until the departure of all French soldiers,” organizers said.
Relations between Niger and France have deteriorated since President Mohamed Bazoum, a close ally of France, was toppled in a coup on July 26. Paris has stood by Bazoum and refused to recognize the new rulers in the troubled Sahel state.
The row heated up this week when Niger’s military regime stripped France’s ambassador of diplomatic immunity and ordered police to expel him, according to a letter seen by Agence France-Presse.
Authorities had already given French envoy Sylvain Itté 48 hours to leave the country. France refused the demand, saying that the government had no legal right to make such an order.
French military spokesperson Colonel Pierre Gaudillière warned that “the French military forces are ready to respond to any upturn in tension that could harm French diplomatic and military premises in Niger.” Measures “have been taken to protect these premises,” he said.
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Niger’s new military rulers also accused France on Friday of “further blatant interference” after French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated his support for ousted leader Mohamed Bazoum.
On Monday, Macron said: “I call on all the states in the region to adopt a responsible policy.”
On August 3, Niger’s new rulers denounced military agreements with France, a move that the government in Paris has also ignored on the grounds of legitimacy.
The agreements cover different timeframes. However, according to military leaders, one of them, dating from 2012, was set to expire within a month.
Niger is battling two jihadist insurgencies; A spillover in southeastern Niger from a long-running campaign in neighboring Nigeria and an offensive in the southwest by militants crossing from Mali and Burkina Faso.
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