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Niger junta closes airspace as ECOWAS deadline expires

Published August 7, 2023last updated August 7, 2023

As the ECOWAS deadline for the reinstatement of President Bazoum expires, Niger's junta takes a bold step by closing its airspace. The move signals growing tensions and the looming threat of military intervention.

General Abdourahmane Tchiani (C) attends the demonstration of coup supporters and greets them at a stadium in the capital city of Niger, Niamey on August 6, 2023.
Tchiani was the guest of honor in a stadium rally supporting the coupImage: Balima Boureima/AA/picture alliance

Niger's military junta has announced the closure of the country's airspace, expectant of a West African bloc's threat to carry out a military intervention in the country should ousted President Mohamed Bazoum not be released and reinstated.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had given the coup leaders until Sunday to reverse their military takeover and restore Bazoum's rule. The deadline has now passed, with the junta organizing large shows of support in the capital Niamey in the run-up to its expiration.

The regional bloc was expected to release a statement in response on Monday. A spokesperson for ECOWAS was quoted as saying by news agencies that the bloc's heads of states would hold a summit on Thursday to discuss their response to Niger.

What did the junta say?

The junta said it was closing Niger's airspace "for all aircraft until further notice" as of Sunday, citing "the threat of intervention" as its motive.

It warned that any attempt to violate the country's airspace would be met with an "energetic and immediate response."

The so-called National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, a council of generals who have taken power, said it had seen indications of a "pre-deployment in preparation for intervention" by two Central African countries it did not name. 

It warned that "any state involved will be considered co-belligerent." 

Niger junta defies ECOWAS deadline to restore civilian rule

How did other countries react?

France discouraged any travel to Niger, Burkina Faso or Mali, where the military also took power by force in 2022 and 2020. 

Germany and Italy called for an extension of the ECOWAS deadline and urged seeking a diplomatic solution. "The only path is a diplomatic one," Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told La Stampa newspaper.

Germany's Foreign Ministry said that ECOWAS mediation efforts were "still ongoing."  

"We hope that these efforts will ultimately lead to success and that constitutional order will be restored in Niger," a ministry spokesman told a press briefing. 

Berlin also warned Niger's junta against acts of violence against Bazoum, saying that coup plotters "will have to face severe personal consequences" if such acts occur. 

Meanwhile, the junta's top allies Mali and Burkina Faso, said they were sending a joint official delegation in a show of solidarity with Niger on Monday. 

ECOWAS deadline passes

On July 30, ECOWAS defense chiefs said they had agreed to intervene if the junta did not meet its demands within one week and return the country to normal constitutional order.

On Friday, the bloc's defense ministers said that they had reached a plan for military action against Niger's junta.

But on Saturday, the junta, led by the former head of the presidential guard, General Abdourahamane Tchiani continued its move to consolidate power by appointing military insiders to key government positions.

How much support for the junta is there in Niger?

Tchiani named himself president after announcing the suspension of the constitution and dissolution of government institutions.

The junta has also seen support among some of the country's youth, who have begun to band together into a citizens' militia.

On Sunday, thousands of coup supporters rallied at a stadium in the capital Niamey to support the military generals' defiance. Coup leaders greeted the crowd, in a venue draped in Russian flags and decorated with portraits of the generals.

Tchiani, formerly the head of the presidential guard who set off the coup by detaining the man he was assigned to protect, was the guest of honor. 

Niger junta threatens to respond to 'aggression': Central Africa analyst Oluwole Ojewale speaks to DW

fb, rmt/msh (AFP, Reuters)