The demonstrators gathered outside a French military base, demanding that the ambassador and about 1,500 soldiers leave.
Thousands of people demonstrated in the Nigerian capital, Niamey, demanding that France withdraw its ambassador and troops from the West African country, where its new military rulers accused the former colonial power of “interference.”
The demonstrators gathered near a military base housing French soldiers, on Saturday, after a call from several civil organizations hostile to the French military presence. They raised banners reading, “French army, leave our country.”
Niger’s military government, which seized power on July 26, accused French President Emmanuel Macron of using divisive rhetoric in his statements about the coup and seeking to impose a new colonial relationship with its former colony.
Macron supports ousted President Mohamed Bazoum and refuses to recognize Niger’s new rulers. France’s ambassador, Sylvain Etty, remained in Niger, despite a 48-hour deadline to leave the country more than a week ago, a decision that Macron said he “applauds.”
Ahmed Idris, Al Jazeera’s correspondent from Niamey, said that the demonstrators who expressed their frustration with the continued French presence in the country began to take matters into their own hands.
According to security personnel, the protest was scheduled to start around 3pm (14:00 GMT), but thousands of protesters had already gathered by 10am (09:00 GMT), surprising police and security forces.
Idris said that the protests that took place over the past few days were “relatively calm and organized,” but on Saturday the demonstrators were seen “breaking the barriers set up by the security forces, police and army” and approaching the area. A base with some trying to get their way by force.
Since then, the army has reinforced the area surrounding the French base, which includes about 1,500 French soldiers, and warned of the forceful entry and the repercussions that would follow.
But the protesters said they would not leave.
“All the military bases. We want to fight to remove all the military bases from our country,” said protester Dobo Campo Hamido. “We don’t want that. Because for more than 13 years, terrorism has been here. He told Al Jazeera: They do not care about fighting terrorism.
Niger’s military rulers accused Paris of “blatant interference” by supporting Bazoum, who has been detained since the July 26 coup.
Macron said on Friday that he had spoken daily with Bazoum since his removal from power.
“We support him. We do not recognize those who carried out the coup. The decisions we will take, whatever they may be, will be based on the correspondence with Bazoum,” the French president said.
The Sahel country is also involved in a standoff with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The regional bloc threatened to intervene militarily if diplomacy failed to restore Bazoum to his position.
“I call on all countries in the region to adopt a responsible policy,” Macron said on Monday. He said that France supports [ECOWAS’s] Diplomatic work, and when you decide to do so, [its] Military action.
Analysts say that France may not leave Niger without a scene, especially since its forced departure from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso in the wake of military coups there.
“If this crisis is not dealt with diplomatically, there is a risk of clashes between the two sides,” said Ken Oumaru, a public affairs analyst based in Niamey.
“For the military junta, it is important to force the French ambassador to leave, otherwise he will appear weak in the eyes of his supporters. The government in France is seeking to provoke the military junta by questioning its legitimacy.”
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