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Thousands of protesters in Niger storm French embassy

Nigerian security forces prepare to disperse pro-junta demonstrators gathered outside the French embassy, in Niamey, the capital city of Niger July 30, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

Thousands of supporters of the military in Niger have marched through the streets of the capital, Niamey, and gathered outside the French embassy, forcefully denouncing former colonial power France before storming its embassy.

The protesters on Sunday stormed the French embassy and put a door of it on fire, according to a local source and videos seen by The Associated Press.

Protesters attempted to enter the embassy building but the Nigerian army stopped them. 

Black smoke could be seen rising from across the city. 

France condemned what it called the violence that erupted around its embassy in Niger, where the junta seized power this week in a coup and demanded that local authorities protect the building.

“Nigerian forces have an obligation to ensure the security of our diplomatic missions and consulates as part of the Vienna convention,” the French Foreign Ministry said on Sunday, condemning “all violence against diplomatic missions.”

The statement came after thousands of military supporters rallied outside the French embassy after Paris cut off security cooperation and financial aid to the West African country in response to the coup that ousted the democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, on Thursday.

Some demonstrators tore down and stamped on a plaque bearing the words “Embassy of France in Niger,” replacing it with Niger and Russian flags while shouting anti-French slogans.

In a separate statement, France threatened to retaliate if its citizens or interests were attacked and said it would back all regional initiatives to restore order in Niger.

"Should anyone attack French nationals, the army, diplomats and French interests, they will see France respond in an immediate and intractable manner," the French presidency said.

West African heads of state were set to meet in Nigeria's capital on Sunday for an urgent summit to decide on further measures to pressure the army to restore constitutional order.

The 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the eight-member West African Economic and Monetary Union could suspend Niger from its institutions, cut off the country from the regional central bank and financial market, and close borders.

Ahead of the summit, the coup leaders in Niger on Saturday night warned in a statement -- which was read on Niger national television on Saturday night -- against any military intervention.

"The objective of the (ECOWAS) meeting is to approve a plan of aggression against Niger through an imminent military intervention in Niamey in collaboration with other African countries that are nonmembers of ECOWAS, and certain Western countries," junta spokesperson Colonel Amadou Abdramane said.

The coup in Niger has drawn condemnation from its neighbors and international partners including the United States, the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and former colonial power France who have all refused to recognize the new leaders and have demanded that Bazoum be restored to power.

The African Union on Saturday demanded that Nigerien military personnel “immediately and unconditionally return to their barracks and restore constitutional authority,” within 15 days.

The AU warned it would “take necessary action, including punitive measures against the perpetrators, should the rights of political detainees not be respected.”

Meanwhile, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borell announced on Saturday the suspension of security cooperation with Niger coup leader on Saturday, saying that the bloc would not acknowledge “the authorities from the putsch in Niger.”

"All cooperation in the security field is suspended indefinitely with immediate effect" in addition to the end to budgetary aid, he said.

Niger is one of the world’s poorest countries and relies on hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance every year.

France, Niger's former colonial power, has 1,500 soldiers in the country, while the United States has around 1,000 troops on the ground.

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