French President Emmanuel Macron has accused the military junta in Niger of holding the French ambassador and other diplomats hostage at the embassy in Niamey. He said the situation was “unacceptable” and called for the restoration of democracy in the West African nation.
A ‘New Provocation’ by the Junta
Macron made the remarks on Friday during a visit to the eastern town of Semur-en-Auxois, where he spoke to reporters about the crisis in Niger. He said the junta, which seized power on July 26 by ousting President Mohamed Bazoum, had demanded the expulsion of Ambassador Sylvain Itté and given France 48 hours to comply.
France, which has condemned the coup and refused to recognize the junta, did not comply with the order and maintained that Itté was the legitimate representative of France in Niger. The junta then revoked his visa and instructed the police to force him out of the country.
Macron said that since then, the junta had prevented food deliveries to the embassy and that Itté and other diplomats were eating military rations. He said they were “literally being held hostage” and could not leave the premises.
“This is a new provocation which cannot in any way help to find a diplomatic solution to the current crisis,” Macron said.
Anti-French Sentiment on the Rise
The coup in Niger has sparked a wave of anti-French sentiment in the former French colony, where France has about 1,500 troops as part of its counter-terrorism operation in the Sahel region. Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Niamey and other cities, demanding that France withdraw its forces and stop interfering in Niger’s affairs.
The protesters have chanted slogans such as “France, get out” and “Macron, assassin”. They have also burned French flags and attacked French-owned businesses and institutions.
Macron said he understood the frustration of some Nigeriens, but insisted that France was not an enemy of Niger. He said France was there to support Niger’s security and development, and to fight against terrorism and organized crime.
He also said he would not make any decision regarding France’s presence in Niger without consulting with Bazoum, whom he recognized as the legitimate president of Niger. He said he spoke with Bazoum every day and that they agreed on the need for a peaceful and democratic transition in Niger.
International Pressure on the Junta
The coup in Niger has been widely condemned by the international community, which has called for the immediate release of Bazoum and other detained officials, and for the respect of the constitutional order and human rights.
The African Union (AU) has suspended Niger’s membership and imposed sanctions on the junta and its members. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has also suspended Niger and imposed an arms embargo and travel bans on the junta leaders.
The European Union (EU) has said it does not recognize and will not recognize the authorities resulting from the coup in Niger. It has also suspended its development aid to Niger, which amounts to about 200 million euros per year.
The United Nations (UN) has expressed its deep concern over the situation in Niger and urged all parties to exercise restraint and dialogue. The UN Security Council has also called for a swift return to civilian rule and a credible electoral process.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a population of about 24 million people. It faces multiple challenges, including insecurity, poverty, climate change, corruption, and COVID-19.