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'Coup attempt' underway in troubled Niger as president held by guards

Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum, pictured on June 23, 2022.

Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum has reportedly been seized by members of the presidential guard, triggering warnings from regional powers that a coup is underway.

Media reports said the presidential guards were holding Bazoum inside the palace, which has been blocked off by military vehicles since Wednesday morning.

The report said that the city’s center and the roads surrounding the Presidential Palace had been blocked, adding that the country’s military appeared to have taken control of state TV.

Video footage from the capital Niamey shows the rest of the city appearing calm.

In a statement on Wednesday, the presidential office called the movement unsuccessful, adding President Bazoum and his family are safe and sound.

“The President of the Republic and his family are doing well. The Army and the National Guard are ready to attack the elements of the GP [Presidential Guard] involved in this fit of anger if they do not return to their better senses,” the presidency said on social media. 

 A source close to the president later said that the country’s Presidential Guard and government authorities are currently in negotiation.

The United Nations “stands by the Government and the people of Niger,” a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday.

“The Secretary-General is following closely the situation in Niger. He condemns in the strongest terms any effort to seize power by force and to undermine democratic governance, peace, and stability in Niger,” Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement.

The African Union also condemned what it called a coup attempt and urged the "felon" soldiers involved to return to barracks immediately.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said there had been an “attempt to seize power by force” in the West African country, in a statement on Wednesday.

“ECOWAS condemns in the strongest terms the attempt to seize power by force and calls on the coup plotters to free the democratically-elected President of the Republic immediately and without any condition,” the bloc added.

“ECOWAS and the international community will hold all those involved in the plot responsible for the security and safety of the President, his family, members of the government, and the general public,” the ECOWAS statement said.

The US Embassy in Niger said it had received reports of political instability within the capital Niamey.

“At this time the city is calm. We advise everyone to limit unnecessary movements, and avoid all travel along Rue de la Republique until further notice,” the embassy said.

Observers say a military takeover in the former French colony could further complicate Western efforts to fight the so-called war on terrorism that has spread from Mali over the past decade.

Land-locked Niger has become a pivotal ally for Western countries allegedly seeking to help fight the insurgency but facing growing acrimony from the new juntas in charge in Mali and Burkina Faso.

It is also a key ally of the European Union in the fight against irregular migration from sub-Saharan Africa.

France also condemned any attempt to seize power and advised French citizens in Niamey to act with vigilance. The United States said it was deeply concerned by developments.

France moved troops to Niger from Mali last year after its relations with interim authorities there soured. It is also withdrawing special forces from Burkina Faso due to similar tensions.

Attempts on power in the landlocked West African state are common as Niger has experienced four coups since independence from France in 1960.

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