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Macron accuses Niger of taking French ambassador hostage

A woman walks past the French Embassy building in Niamey, Niger on September 7, 2023. (File photo by AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron has accused Niger leaders of taking the European country's ambassador hostage after he refused to comply with an order to leave.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Macron claimed ambassador Sylvain Itte and diplomatic staff “are literally being held hostage in the French embassy.”

The envoy "cannot go out, he is persona non grata and he is being refused food,” he said. 

He added that the envoy was "eating military rations," alleging that the military rulers were "blocking food deliveries."

Niger's military leaders seized power in a coup d'état on July 26, overthrowing President Mohamed Bazoum, who had the support of France. They gave the French ambassador a 48-hour ultimatum to leave the country in August, but Macron refused to comply or to recognize the legitimacy of the military rulers.

At the end of August, the military rulers revoked the diplomatic immunity of the ambassador and ordered the police to expel him from the country.

A statement by Niger's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Itte "no longer enjoys the privileges and immunities attached to his status as a member of the diplomatic staff of the embassy."

The document also said the diplomatic cards and visas of the ambassador's families have been canceled.

Niger’s new leaders have also torn up military cooperation agreements with France and asked the country’s troops to leave quickly.

France was a colonial power in West Africa until 1960. It keeps about 1,500 soldiers in Niger and has so far refused to redeploy its forces. 

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