The demonstrators gathered outside a French military base, demanding that the ambassador and about 1,500 soldiers leave.
Thousands of people demonstrated in the Nigerian capital Niamey, demanding that France withdraw its ambassador and troops from the West African country, whose new military rulers have accused Niger’s former colonial ruler of “interference.”
The demonstrators gathered near a base housing French soldiers after a call from several civil organizations hostile to the French military presence. They raised banners reading, “French army, leave our country.”
Niger’s military government, which seized power on July 26, accused French President Emmanuel Macron of using divisive rhetoric in his statements about the coup and seeking to impose a new colonial relationship with its former colony.
Macron supports ousted President Mohamed Bazoum and refuses to recognize the new rulers. French Ambassador Sylvain Etty remained in Niger despite a 48-hour deadline to leave the country more than a week ago, a decision that Macron said he “lauds.”
Ahmed Idris, Al Jazeera’s correspondent from Niamey, said that the demonstrators, who are expressing their frustration with the continued French presence in the country, have begun to take matters into their own hands.
According to security personnel, the protest was scheduled to start around 3pm (14:00 GMT), but thousands of protesters had already gathered by 10am (09:00 GMT), surprising police and security forces.
Idris said that the protests that took place over the past few days were “relatively calm and organised,” but on Saturday, demonstrators were seen “breaking barriers set up by security forces, police and army” and approaching the army. A base with some trying to get their way by force.
Since then, the army has reinforced the area surrounding the French base, which includes about 1,500 French soldiers, and warned of the forceful entry and the repercussions that would follow.
“I speak every day with President Bazoum”: Macron
The military rulers accused Paris of “blatant interference” by supporting Bazoum, who has been detained since the July 26 coup.
Colonel Amadou Abderrahmane said in a statement read on national television that Macron’s comments in support of Bazoum “constitute more blatant interference in Niger’s internal affairs.”
Macron said on Friday that he had spoken daily with Bazoum since his removal from power.
“We support him. We do not recognize those who carried out the coup. The decisions we will take, whatever they may be, will be based on the correspondence with Bazoum,” Macron said.
The Sahel country is also involved in a standoff with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The regional bloc threatened to intervene militarily if diplomacy failed to restore Bazoum to his position.
“I call on all countries in the region to adopt a responsible policy,” Macron said on Monday.
He said that France supports [ECOWAS’s] Diplomatic work, and when you decide to do so, [its] Military action.
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