Niger’s president detained by presidential guards blocking access to official residence US pleads for his release and democracy
Soldiers from Niger’s presidential guard have surrounded the president’s palace in the capital, Niamey, and are holding the country’s head of state, Mohamed Bazoum, inside, Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday, citing security sources.
The sources reportedly claimed that access to ministries near the presidency office has also been restricted, with staff unable to gain entry.
According to AFP, no military forces were visible in the area surrounding the presidency, traffic was normal, and no gunshots have been heard in the capital.
Bazoum was earlier thought to be in St. Petersburg with other African leaders for the Russia-Africa summit, but a source told TASS that he is not on “the lists of those who confirmed their participation.”
Meanwhile, the presidency stated on Twitter (currently rebranded as X) that elements of the presidential guard made an unsuccessful attempt to gain the support of the national armed forces and the national guard in their “anti-republican” move.
State forces and the national guard are ready to attack the guards involved in the incident if they continue their action, the office of the head of state said.“The President of the Republic and his family are doing well,” it tweeted.
The United States urged the release of President Bazoum.
“We specifically urge elements of the presidential guard to release President Bazoum from detention and refrain from violence,” Sullivan said in a statement, adding that the White House was monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens.
The U.S. State Department in a separate statement also expressed strong support for the Niger president and said it was in communication with the U.S. Embassy in Niamey. The department said it was “gravely concerned about the developments in Niger.”
West Africa’s main regional and economic bloc, ECOWAS, said it was concerned about an attempted coup d’etat and called on the plotters to free Bazoum. The African Union also condemned what it called a coup attempt and urged the “felon” soldiers involved to return to barracks immediately.
The United States says it has spent around $500 million since 2012 to help Niger boost its security.
“We welcome the strong statements and steps taken by the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union to defend Niger’s democracy,” Sullivan said on Wednesday.
The reason for the palace seizure is unknown, it raises the possibility of a military coup in one of Africa’s poorest countries, which has seen four coups since gaining independence from France in 1960.
The most recent putsch, in February 2010, deposed President Mahamadou Tandja, following the first in April 1974 against President Diori Hamani.
There have been numerous revolt attempts, the most recent occurring in March 2021, just days before the inauguration of Bazoum, who was democratically elected that same year.
The former French colony has also been plagued by jihadist insurgencies that have spread from neighboring Mali and Nigeria.
Last year, France moved troops to the Sahel nation from Mali, following troubled relations with its military rulers.