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Thousands of Nigeriens protest against France's military presence for 3rd straight day

Supporters of Niger's military rulers gather outside the military base housing France's troops in the West African country on September 3, 2023 to demand their departure. (Photo by AFP)

Thousands of protesters have poured into the streets of Niger's capital city of Niamey for the third day in a row, calling for an end to France's military presence in the West African country.

Participants in the Sunday protest chanted, "Down with France! France get out," repeating a demand put forward by the country's military rulers that overthrew former Paris-allied president, Mohamed Bazoum, and his government on July 26.

The protest followed similar demonstrations on Friday and Saturday in which thousands of people rallied near a French military base in Niger's capital to express their support for the military government and demand the immediate withdrawal of French troops and diplomats from the country.

On those occasions, the demonstrators gathered near the 101 Squadron airbase, chanting slogans such as “Down with imperialism,” “French soldiers, Niger is a sovereign country, leave!” and “Macron, Niger is not your property.”

On August 3, Niger's new rulers announced the scrapping of military agreements with France, which has about 1,500 troops stationed in the country. Ever since, Nigeriens have been holding demonstrations in front of the military base housing the French forces, threatening to storm the facility if French troops do not leave.

Later in August, Niger's military leaders also expelled French ambassador Sylvain Itte after withdrawing his diplomatic immunity. They said his presence constituted a threat to public order.

Niger's new government gave Itte 48 hours to leave, charging the European country with meddling in the internal affairs of its former African colony.

On Sunday, France once again tried to justify keeping its ambassador in place, with Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna telling the Le Monde newspaper, "He is our representative to the legitimate authorities in Niger."

Niger's military rulers have also accused Paris of seeking to invade the country.

"In its search for ways and means to intervene militarily in Niger, France with the complicity of some Nigeriens, held a meeting with the chief of staff of the Nigerien National Guard to obtain the necessary political and military authorization," the junta said on July 31.

Despite denying any intention for such an invasion, Paris has vowed to resort to "immediate and uncompromising" action if French citizens or interests were targeted.

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