France has now confirmed that it will immediately start evacuating its citizens and other Europeans from Niger, days after a junta ousted the president, Mohamed Bazoum, and took over power in the west African country.
Since the coup on July 26 that overthrew one of the last pro-western leaders in Africa’s Sahel region, which has faced jihadist insurgencies, tensions between Niger and the ex colonial power, France, have escalated.
France’s move to swiftly evacuate its citizens from Niger goes further than its reactions to coups in recent years in neighboring former French colonies, Mali and Burkina Faso, where French people were not evacuated after military coups.
The government of Italy has also said it will arrange a special flight to repatriate its nationals from Niger.
The French foreign office said: “Given the situation in Niamey, and the violence that took place against our embassy [on Sunday] and the closing of airspace that leaves our citizens without any possibility of leaving the country by their own means, France is preparing to evacuate those of its citizens and European citizens who want to leave the country. The evacuation will begin today.”
The French people were informed that the evacuation would be coordinated with Niger, it would be quick, and that people should prepare their ID documents, a minimum of small luggage, and water and food for the wait for departure.
Currently, there are believed to be about 500–600 French nationals in Niger, fewer than the usual number of about 1,000 because many left earlier this month for school holidays.
On Sunday, supporters of the junta burned French flags and attacked the French embassy in the capital, Niamey.
Bazoum was captured by his own presidential guard, the latest in several coups in the Sahel, in recent years, including those in Mali and Burkina Faso.
Mali and Burkina Faso juntas cautioned that any military intervention in Niger to restore Bazoum would be considered a “declaration of war” against their two countries.
They said the “disastrous consequences of a military intervention in Niger … could destabilize the entire region”.
On Monday, Niger’s junta accused France of seeking to intervene militarily to reinstate Bazoum, which the French foreign minister Catherine Colonna denied. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, on Sunday vowed “immediate and uncompromising” action if French citizens or interests were attacked, after thousands had rallied outside the French embassy in Niamey.
Bazoum’s PNDS party has warned that Niger risks becoming a “dictatorial and totalitarian regime” after a series of arrests.
Since the coup, the junta has arrested the country’s oil, mining, interior and transport ministers; the head of the PNDS’s executive committee; and a former defense minister, according to the party.
The European Union condemned the arrest of ministers from the ousted government and demanded they be freed immediately.