Thousands of people demonstrated Sunday in Niger in support of last month’s coup, a few hours before the deadline given to France’s ambassador in an ultimatum to leave the country.
Demonstrators gathered near the French military base in the capital Niamey, some waving Nigerien or Russian flags, others with placards calling for the departure of French troops.
Former colonial power France still has 1,500 soldiers based in Niger. They had been helping the deposed President Mohamed Bazoum in the fight against jihadi forces active there — before military officers toppled him in the July 26 coup.
The National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani has detained him and his family at the presidential palace.
Sunday’s rally started at dawn on a roundabout near the Niamey airport by the Nigerien air base where the French force is located, as demonstrators answered an appeal from organizations backing the country’s new rulers.
“We don’t want the French army in Niger,” said one demonstrator, Abou Kountche. “Let the French leave.”
“The French say that Niger is a poor country, but when we tell them to go home, they refuse,” said restaurateur Adama Assane.
The demonstration comes after a month of rising tensions and anti-France protests in Niger.
On Friday, Niger’s foreign ministry announced that French ambassador Sylvain Itte had 48 hours to leave, saying he had refused to meet with the new rulers and citing French government actions that were “contrary to the interests of Niger.”
Paris has rejected the demand and said the “putschists do not have the authority to make this request,” insisting that the government of Bazoum that they had overthrown remained the legitimate authority.
On Saturday some 20,000 people rallied in the General Seyni Kountche stadium to support the country’s new military rulers and call for the removal of French soldiers.
France has consistently backed calls by the West African bloc ECOWAS for the reinstatement of President Bazoum.
A hostile rally outside the French embassy on July 30 prompted Paris to organize the voluntary evacuation of its citizens.
ECOWAS has also applied sanctions against the new regime and threatened to use military means to remove it if the new rulers do not hand back power to Bazoum.
Efforts to find a diplomatic solution are continuing, however, with Molly Phee, the top U.S. diplomat for sub-Saharan Africa, visiting Nigeria to meet ECOWAS officials Saturday.