A military unit attempted to seize the presidential palace in Niamei, the capital of Niger, in an attempted coup, but order was restored, the government announced on Wednesday (31). before the country’s first democratic transfer of power.
Crooks from a nearby air base fled after the presidential guard responded with heavy shelling and rifle fire, according to three security sources, who requested anonymity.
Government spokesman Abdourahamane Zakaria said several people had been arrested while others were still wanted, but the situation was under control.
“The government condemns this cowardly and backward act which seeks to endanger our democracy and the rule of law to which our country is resolutely attached,” he declared at a press conference.
President Mahamadou Issoufou is leaving the government after two terms of five years each, and President-elect Mohamed Bazoum, the ruling party’s candidate, is expected to take office on Friday (2) after a controversial victory with Mahamane Ousmane.
Former US envoy to the Sahel, J. Peter Pham, wrote on social media that the current president and president-elect are safe, and the cabinet posted photos on Twitter of Issoufou presiding over the swearing-in ceremony of two high ranking judges. Ousmane’s whereabouts have not been reported.
There have been more and more attacks by Islamic extremists, as well as protests in the country after Bazoum’s victory in the second round of elections in February. Ousmane, a former president who lost the race, rejected the results and said there was election fraud.
In parts of the capital, supporters of Ousmane took to the streets on Wednesday to protest and clash with police, who fired tear gas to disperse them. According to witnesses, roads near the city have been closed.
Bazoum’s election is the first transition of democratic power in a country that has seen four military coups since its independence from France in 1960, including one in 1996 that ousted Ousmane.
The attack began around 3 a.m. local time (11 p.m. Tuesday in Brasilia) and lasted about 30 minutes, according to a Reuters witness. By 10 am, traffic had already resumed in the area and the situation appeared to be normal. The US embassy in Niamei was closed during the day due to gunfire heard in the neighborhood and warned that the security situation remained uncertain in the post-election period.
Increased insecurity in the region caused by jihadists linked to Al Qaeda and ISIS intensifies Niger’s economic challenges, including drought, the Covid-19 pandemic and low uranium prices, its main export. A coup in neighboring Mali in August last year toppled President Boubacar Keita. Under pressure from countries in the region, the junta ceded power to a transitional government that will rule Mali until next year’s elections.
Translation by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves