Niger’s coup leaders have closed the country’s airspace after a bloc of West African countries threatened to militarily intervene if the Nigerien president is not reinstated.
Niger’s military has been holding the country’s ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, since last month in the seventh coup to hit Africa’s Sahel region in recent years, with General Abdourahamane Tiani, Head of the powerful presidential guard, declaring himself leader.
On July 30, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) gave the coup leaders a week to return power to the country’s civilian authorities or face consequences, including the use of force. Sunday was the last day of the deadline.
“In the face of the threat of intervention [from ECOWAS] that is becoming more apparent … Nigerien airspace is closed effective from today,” a junta representative said in a Sunday evening statement on the national television.
“Niger’s armed forces and all our defense and security forces, backed by the unfailing support of our people, are ready to defend the integrity of our territory,” the unnamed representative added.
The junta also warned that any attempt to violate the country’s airspace would be met with an “energetic and immediate response.”
In a separate statement, the now-ruling National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, which comprises the generals who have taken power, said a “pre-deployment in preparation for the intervention has been made in two countries of Central Africa,” without naming them.
The council warned, “Any state involved will be considered co-belligerent.”
The West African bloc’s military threat has triggered fears of further conflict in the region as any military intervention could be complicated by a promise from juntas in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso to come to Niger’s defense if needed.
The new development came after earlier on Sunday, thousands of junta supporters flocked to a stadium in the capital Niamey, cheering the military leaders’ decision not to cave in to external pressure.