Niger coup: France defies junta’s order for ambassador to leave Niamey

France’s ambassador to Niger is at his duty post despite an ultimatum from the new junta, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday.

During a major foreign policy speech to ambassadors in Paris, Macron confirmed that the French envoy, Sylvain Itte was listening in from Niger capital Niamey despite being given a 48-hour deadline to leave the country last Friday.

Niger President, Mohamed Bazoum was toppled on July 26 and has been detained along with his family at the presidential palace in a coup that has been condemned by France and most of Niger’s neighbours.

On Friday, the new Niger regime announced that French ambassador Itte had 48 hours to leave, saying he had refused to meet with the new rulers and citing French government actions that were “contrary to the interests of Niger”.

Macron insisted that France would not change position in condemning the coup and offering support to Bazoum, stressing he had been democratically elected and was being “courageous” by refusing to resign.

“Our policy is clear: we do not recognise the putschists,” Macron said, adding that they were “abandoning the fight against terrorism”.

The impoverished Sahel region, which lies south of the Sahara, has suffered what Macron called an “epidemic” of coups in recent years, with military regimes replacing elected governments in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea as well as Niger.

The changes have led to the creation of new military governments hostile to France, a former colonial power in West Africa which has troops across the region engaged in fighting Islamist groups.

France intervened militarily to beat back advancing extremists in Mali in 2013 at the request of the then Malian government.

Current military regimes in Mali and Burkina Faso have forged closer ties with Russia, which Macron referred to as a “neo-imperialist” power.

“We can’t give ground to the narrative used by the putschists which boils down to saying, ‘our enemy has become France’”,said Macron.

Macron said the new regime in Niger was bad for local people because the “putschists are putting them in danger because they are abandoning the fight against terrorism, because they are abandoning good economic policies, and they are in the process of losing international financing which enabled them to emerge from poverty”.

France needed an approach in Africa of neither paternalism, nor weakness, he added.

France has about 1,500 troops in Niger helping local forces fight Islamic extremists. The military cooperation has been suspended since the coup, whose leaders say Bazoum’s government wasn’t doing enough to protect the country.

Meanwhile, the European Union expressed its “full support” for the French ambassador to Niger, after the soldiers who seized power in the country demanded his departure.

“The decision of the putschists to expel the French ambassador is a new provocation which cannot in any way help to find a diplomatic solution to the current crisis”, said EU spokeswoman for foreign affairs, Nabila Massrali. Adding that the EU “does not recognise” the authorities that seized power in Niger on July 26.

Also, militants within Niger’s ex-ruling Party have become embroiled in a campaign to divide it since the president was overthrown, the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism said yesterday.

“Our party is the victim of a campaign to divide it”, based on “skilfully filtered rumours” on social media and in the press, the Party said in a letter to its officials.

The letter admitted that the party’s own activists have been caught up in the campaign.

Social networks have suggested Bazoum’s predecessor, Mahamadou Issoufou had a role in the coup.

“Totally false”, said Issoufou in an interview with Jeune Afrique magazine on August 17. He called for Bazoum to be restored to office.

Since the coup, the Party has “faced several attacks aimed at weakening it”, the letter noted.

The attacks include bans on demonstrations and meetings which deprive it of “the classic means of struggle… to re-establish constitutional order” and set free Bazoum and his family, the letter added.

The day of the coup, security forces dispersed a protest by Bazoum’s supporters.

The party urged its militants “not to allow yourselves to be… distracted by the lies and rumours Stay mobilised to fight against the putschists.

“France and its diplomats have faced particularly difficult situations in some countries in recent months, from Sudan, where France has been exemplary, to Niger at this very moment and I applaud your colleague and your colleagues who are listening from their posts”, he said.

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