Thousands of people in Niger have protested near a French military base in the capital Niamey to express their support for the military government and demand the immediate withdrawal of French troops and diplomats from the West African country.
The demonstrators gathered near the 101 Squadron airbase on Friday, as they chanted slogans such as “Down with imperialism,” “French soldiers, Niger is a sovereign country, leave!” and “Macron, Niger is not your property.”
Niger’s top Muslim leaders also attended the protest rally, and prayed for the country’s protection from the “enemies of peace.”
Issaka Hassane Karanta, president of the Islamic Council of Niger (CSN), criticized the West African bloc of countries (ECOWAS) for imposing sanctions on Niger and threatening military action to return the former president to power.
“We are peaceful and just people, and God is always on the side of the just. He will protect us against all forms of internal and external aggression,” he said.
Habibou Abdou, one of the protest organizers, said that the “biggest” rally since the coup will take place on Saturday.
Niger’s army generals overthrew the country’s Paris-allied President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.
The military takeover in Niger came amid a growing wave of anti-French sentiments, with the people of Niger accusing the European country of interfering in their affairs.
Since the takeover, people in Niger have on several occasions come out in force to display support for the military leaders and reject former Western-backed authorities.
Earlier this month, the military rulers scrapped a series of Niger’s cooperation agreements with France in a bid to bring to a close the French military presence across the country and the subsequent looting of the resources of the impoverished nation.
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.
Niger accuses France of ‘blatant interference’
On Friday, Niger’s military government lashed out at France for backing the ousted president, accusing Paris of "blatant interference" in its internal affairs.
The junta spokesman, Colonel Major Amadou Abdramane, made the remarks in a statement, after French President Emmanuel Macron voiced his support for Bazoum earlier in the day.
Macron’s comments in support of Bazoum “constitute further blatant interference in Niger's domestic affairs," Abdramane said.
“Macron’s comments and his unceasing efforts in favor of an invasion of Niger aim at perpetuating a neocolonial operation against the Nigerien people, who ask for nothing more than to decide its own destiny for itself."
Niger's "differences" with France do not touch on “the relationship between our peoples, or on individuals, but on the relevance of the French military presence in Niger," Abdramane noted.
On Friday, Macron dismissed Niger's rulers as having "no legitimacy," stating that France would make its decisions with regard to Niger "on the basis of exchanges with President Bazoum".
His statements came a day after Niger's military rulers revoked the diplomatic immunity of France's ambassador and ordered police to expel him from the country.
France was a colonial power in West Africa until 1960. Since independence, the European country has maintained trade relations and a military presence in the region.