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ECOWAS orders immediate standby force against Niger junta

In this picture men are seen holding a Nigerien flag while a Russian flag is being waved as demonstrators gathered for an anti-sanctions protest in support of the junta in Niamey, Niger on August 3, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

The West African regional bloc has forged ahead with its plan to form a military force to stand against Niger's junta and restore the ousted president to his post.

Two weeks have passed since Niger’s military coup resulted in the ouster of former President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, the seventh coup in West and Central Africa in three years and the fifth in West Africa – after Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad – whose government has been toppled by its military since 2020.

Meeting in Abuja on Thursday, leaders from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called for forging ahead with a regional standby force to restore constitutional order in the coup-hit country.

ECOWAS leaders agreed on ordering the “activation” and the “deployment” of a regional standby force. However, it is not yet clear what this would entail.

The bloc's leaders pledged to enforce sanctions, travel bans and asset freezes on the junta leaders of Niger.

The West African regional bloc has also called for dialog, emphasizing that a “determination to keep all options on the table for the peaceful resolution of the crisis.”

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said he depicted the detention of Bazoum as "a terrorist act" and promised to supply a battalion of troops to the ECOWAS coalition forces.

In the meantime, as tensions escalate between Niger's new military government and the West African regional bloc, Niger's junta threatened to kill the ousted president, who is in military detention, if ECOWAS did deploy its coalition forces for an invasion of the country.

The European Union on Friday reiterated concern about the conditions under which pro-West Bazoum and his family were being detained.

"President Bazoum has dedicated his life to improve conditions for the people of Niger. Nothing justifies such a treatment," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

In this regard, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States would hold the junta accountable for the safety of Bazoum, his family, and detained members of the government.

Niger, before the coup, was an ally of the West after Mali and others turned against former colonial power France.

The US State Department said on Wednesday that Washington was “greatly worried” about the health and safety of Niger’s detained president and his family.

Blinken said he had another telephone call Tuesday with Bazoum to express "our continued efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the current constitutional crisis."

"The United States reiterates our call for the immediate release of him and his family," Blinken wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Niger is a landlocked country in western Africa on the southern edge of the Sahara desert, surrounded by seven other African states, including heavy-weight countries such as Libya, Chad, and Nigeria.

In spite of being one of the world's poorest countries, Niger, which is more than twice the size of France, is the world's seventh-largest producer of uranium, a crucial material for nuclear power and cancer treatments.

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