French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna rejects allegations, says it is still ‘possible’ to restore president to power.
The coup leaders who seized power last week in Niger have alleged that the toppled government had authorised France to carry out an attack on the presidential palace to try to free President Mohamed Bazoum.
Colonel Amadou Abdramane, one of the coup plotters, made the claims on Monday on state television. He said the authorisation was signed by Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massoudou, acting as prime minister. The whereabouts of Massoudou and Bazoum remain unknown.
France rejected the allegations as Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said it was still “possible” to restore Bazoum to power.
Bazoum, a Western ally whose election just over two years ago marked Niger’s first peaceful transition of power since independence, was toppled on Wednesday by the elite Presidential Guard.
Guard chief General Abdourahamane Tchiani declared himself leader, but his claim has been dismissed internationally, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has given him a week to hand back power.
Bazoum’s PNDS party on Monday warned that Niger risks becoming a “dictatorial and totalitarian regime” after a series of arrests.
On Monday, the oil and mining ministers were arrested, the party said. The head of PNDS’s national executive committee was also arrested.
The coup leaders had previously arrested the interior minister, the transport minister and a former defence minister, the party said.
The putschists took aim at Paris on national television, saying, “In its search for ways and means to intervene militarily in Niger, France with the complicity of some Nigeriens held a meeting with the chief of staff of the Nigerien national guard to obtain the necessary political and military authorisation.”
“It’s wrong,” Colonna told France’s BFM news channel of the allegation, adding that it was still “possible” to return the democratically elected president to power.
“And it’s necessary because destabilisation is perilous for Niger and its neighbours,” she said.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday promised “immediate and uncompromising” action if French citizens or interests were attacked after thousands rallied outside the French embassy in Niamey. Some protesters tried to enter the compound but were dispersed by tear gas.
The presidential guard, which seized power last week after blocking Bazoum inside the palace in the capital, Niamey, has previously warned against foreign attempts to extract the president, saying it would result in bloodshed and chaos.
Abdramane’s comments also come a day after ECOWAS warned that it could use force if Bazoum were not reinstated within a week.
The West African bloc said it would take “all measures” to restore constitutional order otherwise. “Such measures may include the use of force for this effect,” it said in a statement.
Chadian President Mahamat Idriss Deby visited Niamey on Sunday as an ECOWAS envoy and posted photos of separate meetings with Bazoum and Tchiani.
ECOWAS also imposed strict sanctions, including suspending all commercial and financial transactions between its member states and Niger and freezing assets in regional central banks.
Economic sanctions could have a deep impact on Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, which relies on imports from Nigeria for up to 90 percent of its power, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.
The sanctions could be disastrous and Niger needs to find a solution to avoid them, Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou told French media outlet Radio France Internationale.
“When people say there’s an embargo, land borders are closed, air borders are closed, it’s extremely difficult for people. … Niger is a country that relies heavily on the international community,” he said.
Landlocked Niger has had a turbulent political history since gaining independence in 1960. Before Wednesday, there had been four coups and numerous other attempts, including two previously against Bazoum.