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West Africa on edge as deadline to end coup in Niger gets over Sunday

Massive street protests and violence has gripped Niger's capital Niamey since the military coup

The entire West African region remains very much on edge as the seven-day deadline given to Niger’s new military leaders to put an end to their coup, release country’s President Mohamed Bazoum, all the members of his government, and allow an immediate return to constitutional and democratic order, ends Sunday.

The Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) – a regional economic bloc of 15 countries which has been making frantic efforts to resolve the ongoing impasse – had assigned the deadline after a meeting of the bloc’s heads of state and government in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja on July 30.

ECOWAS made it clear that in the event its demands are not met by Sunday, the grouping will take all measures necessary to restore democracy in Niger with measures that may include “the use of force”.

A lot has happened already in the region after Bazoum was ousted in a military coup led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the commander of the country’s presidential guard, on July 26 in fresh trouble for the terror-infested Sahel region.

Making it clear that democratically-elected Bazoum is the only President of Niger, France – a country that ruled the landlocked country until 1960 and still retained a significant influence in the uranium-rich territory – has said that it does not recognise the authorities resulting from the coup led by General Tchiani.

As massive street protests and violence gripped Niger’s capital Niamey, France and several other countries have evacuated their citizens from the West African nation.

On Saturday, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna met Niger Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou – who was on a foreign trip at the time of the coup back home – in Paris to reaffirm France’s full support for Bazoum, the “only legitimate authorities” in Niger.

“France supports with firmness and determination the efforts of ECOWAS to defeat this putsch attempt. The future of Niger and the stability of the entire region are at stake,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement after the meeting.

Niger holds large reserves of uranium with as many as 30 French companies active in the country covering all economic sectors, particularly in services, distribution and in the mining sector.

The Tchiani-led group has denounced all military agreements with France and also stated that they will stop exporting uranium and gold to the country.

However, Paris has maintained that the legal framework for its cooperation with Niger in the area of defence is based on agreements that have been concluded with the legitimate Niger authorities.

“These are the only ones that France, like the entire international community, recognizes,” said French Foreign Ministry.

Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is also the Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, had dispatched a high-level delegation to Niger’s capital Niamey on Thursday.

However, the touring party left Niger a few hours after they landed in Niamey without meeting the coup leader or the deposed President of the country.

The situation is only expected to get more tense in the coming days as neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali, which have faced suspension from the regional economic bloc following similar military takeovers, have warned that any military intervention against Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war against them as well.

At the same time, the coup leaders in Niger have warned ECOWAS of immediate retaliation in the event of any planned “aggression or attempted aggression”.