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West African Leaders Meet in Abuja as Niger Coup Leaders Warn Against Military Intervention

As West African leaders gather Sunday in Abuja for an emergency conference to decide on future moves to pressure the army to restore constitutional order following a coup last week, military authorities in Niger have warned against any armed intervention in the country.

The heads of state of the eight-member West African Economic and Monetary Union and the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will meet in Nigeria and have the option of suspending Niger from their institutions, cutting off access to the regional financial market and central bank, or closing borders.

The leaders of West Africa are concentrating on measures to reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum, who was deposed after Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani was proclaimed the new ruler.

Leaders of the coup in Niger issued a warning prior to the conference on Sunday.

In a statement read out on state TV on Saturday night, junta spokesperson Colonel Amadou Abdramane stated that the purpose of the ECOWAS meeting was to approve a plan of aggression against Niger through an impending military intervention in Niamey in cooperation with other African nations that are not members of ECOWAS and some western nations.

“We want to remind ECOWAS or any other adventurer, once more, of our firm determination to defend our homeland,” he said.

On Saturday evening, the junta released a second statement urging residents of the capital to walk to the streets at 7 a.m. local time to oppose ECOWAS and express their support for the new military authorities.

Many of Niger’s neighbors and international allies denounced the military takeover and asked that Bazoum be reinstated. They have also refused to recognize the new government.

Although the European Union, France, and others claim to still recognize Bazoum as the rightful president and he has been able to speak to some top foreign figures, Bazoum has not been heard from since he was imprisoned within the presidential palace early on Thursday.

Financial assistance and security coordination with Niger were terminated on Saturday by the European Union and France.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s in-charge of foreign affairs, announced the sanctions by stating that “the European Union does not recognize and will not recognize the authorities from the putsch in Niger,” adding that Mohamed Bazoum “remains the only legitimate president of Niger” and urging for his quick release.

The African Union demanded that the soldiers return to their barracks and reestablish constitutional order within 15 days in a statement following an emergency meeting on Friday. What would occur after that was not specified.

The news will come as a shock to Niger, which has been a significant beneficiary of help from the West, particularly the US and the EU, as an ally in the struggle against Islamic insurgencies that have been causing instability in the larger Sahel region.

In a sizable desert nation with security concerns, many people in the international community see the government of Niger as a fortress against Islamist terrorism. Despite having to withdraw from neighboring Mali in recent years, France still keeps 1,500 soldiers in Niger. The future of their deployment could be in jeopardy if Bazoum is overthrown.