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Niger: Presidential palace attack an 'attempted coup'

March 31, 2021

A military unit attempted to seize the presidential palace in Niger's capital, according to the government, just days before the country's new president Mohamed Bazoum takes office.

File photo of Niger's presidential palace in the capital Niamey
File photo of Niger's presidential palace in the capital NiameyImage: DW/M. Kanta

A military unit made a failed coup attempt in Niger's capital Niamey on Wednesday, a government spokesman said, coming just two days before the country's first ever democratic transition of power. 

President-elect Mohamed Bazoum  is due to be sworn in on Friday — taking over from President Mahamane Ousmane, who disputed the election results.

Spokesman Abdourahamane Zakaria said the coup attempt was intended to "imperil democracy." 

The government claimed the security situation was under control after the militants attempted to seize Niamey's presidential palace, with several arrests having been made. 

What we know so far

Gunfire reportedly began around 3 a.m. local time (0400 CET) and lasted for around 30 minutes. 

Local residents told news agency AFP that there was "intense shooting, with heavy and light weapons." 

The United States Embassy in Niamey issued a security alert saying it would not open its doors on Wednesday "due to gunshots heard near our neighborhood.''

A combination picture of incoming Niger President Mohamed Bazoum and former President Mahamane Ousmane
The shooting comes two days ahead of Mohamed Bazoum's (L) inauguration after winning in the runoff against Mahamane Ousmane

The situation is 'calm'

DW correspondent Abdoulkarim Mahamadou said Niger's state broadcaster initially began its program as usual at 6:30 a.m. with no mention to the reported shooting. 

"The situation here is calm and seems to be under control [of security forces]. Traffic is dense, officials are going to work, cabs are running normally and people are going about their business," Mahamadou said. 

Violence escalated after elections

Attacks by militants have grown since Bazoum's victory in February presidential election. 

Niger's former president, Ousmane, has deemed the election fraudulent after he lost in the runoff against Bazoum. 

Ousmane served as president for three years until a military coup toppled him in 1996. He has since tried to regain power, most recently through the February election. 

Niger has had four coups since its independence from France in 1960. 

The spread of deadly extremist violence has long plagued the West African country, after Islamist insurgencies spilled over from Mali and Nigeria.

Bachirou Amadou Adamou, a legal scholar based in Niamey, told DW Wednesday the coup attempt was a message "aimed not only at the new government, but also the international community."

Adamou said electoral disputes in Niger are often taken up by international bodies rather than local mediators. 

"This coup attempt shows the weaknesses of the Nigerien democratic system and the necessity to strengthen democratic institutions in Niger, including the army," he added. 

Niger votes

How do Nigeriens view their new president?

Thomas Schiller, a Mali-based Africa expert for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, told DW Wednesday that Bazoum is seen as a close follower of Niger's last president, Mahamadou Issafou.

"The transition from Bazoum to Issafou is regarded by the vast majority of people in Niger as a continuation, and not seen as a real change of power," Schiller said.

Schiller claimed that the many Nigeriens feel Issafou did not do enough to improve Niger's precarious security situation, with the Defense Ministry also facing an embezzlement scandal under his leadership. 

fb, wd/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)