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Niger junta scraps military pacts with France

Protesters chanted anti-French slogans and waved Russian flags, with 'France must leave' written on the white banner in the center of this shot. (Photo by AFP)

Niger's military junta has scrapped a series of military cooperation agreements with France in a bid to put an end to the French forces' presence across the country and the subsequent looting of the resources of the impoverished nation.

In a televised speech on Thursday, Amadou Abdramane, the representative of the military government, announced his decision to cancel five military contracts with France that date between 1977 and 2020.

Abdramane added that a diplomatic notice will be sent to France in this regard. France has not shown any immediate reaction.

Like recent coups in neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali, last week's military takeover in Niger came amid rising anti-French and anti-colonial sentiments, with Nigeriens accusing the former colonial ruler of meddling in their country's affairs.

France has between 1,000 and 1,500 troops in Niger, who are claiming to be fighting the so-called 'war on terrorism'. In Niger, there are not only French forces but American and European soldiers as well.

Burkina Faso and Mali have already expelled French troops, many of whom are now stationed in Niger.

Meanwhile, the turmoil has prompted some European nations to evacuate citizens by plane. Paris said on Thursday it has completed the evacuation of hundreds of French and European citizens.

Niger's regional and Western partners, including France, have imposed sweeping sanctions in a bid to pressure coup leaders to give the power back after Bazum's ouster.

However, Abdourahamane Tiani, the former leader of Niger's presidential guard, and the leader of the military government, said that these sanctions will not make them retreat from their position.

Tiani has won the support of the military in Mali and Burkina Faso, citing ongoing insecurity as his main justification for taking power.

In another example of the junta's resistance to former allies, Niger suspended government-backed international news outlets France 24 and RFI early Thursday - a move France's foreign ministry condemned.

In a move after the military coup, hundreds of people in Niger took to the streets to show their support for the military that removed Bazoum from power.

Many of them chanted anti-Western slogans and waved Russian flags as they gathered outside the National Assembly.

The angry protesters also denounced the main regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has imposed sanctions on Niger and said it could authorize the use of force if soldiers did not restore Bazoum to power by Sunday.

A number of demonstrators on Thursday in Niamey held a placard that said: "Long live Niger, Russia, Mali, and Burkina. Down with France, ECOWAS, EU."

An ECOWAS delegation is in Niamey hoping to reach "a definitive and amicable solution", while the bloc's defense chiefs are also meeting this week to discuss a possible military response, which they say could be a last resort.

On Thursday, the military junta announced that any aggression or attempted aggression by ECOWAS would be met with an immediate and unannounced response by Niger's armed forces against ECOWAS member states except those friendly to Niger.

Mali and Burkina Faso have said they would treat an intervention in Niger as a "declaration of war" against them too and would come to Niamey's defense. Tiani sent a general to both countries on Wednesday to shore up support.

France has a long history in West Africa, where it was a colonial power until 1960. Since independence, France has maintained a military presence in the region, which has caused long-term tensions that now seem to be reaching new heights.

French troops withdrew from Mali in 2022 and Burkina Faso in 2023 following military coups. New leadership in Niger could lead to another withdrawal from a country France saw as a key ally in the Sahel. 

Western countries are also concerned that Niger could emulate those neighbors in turning towards Russia.

China said on Thursday it believed Niger and regional countries had the wisdom and capability to find a political solution.

Over the past decade, Russia and China, in particular, have consolidated their relations with African states in a number of domains, from trade to energy and military cooperation.

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