Thousands gather in Niger to demand withdrawal of French troops
Thousands marched in Niger’s capital Niamey on Saturday to demand that former colonial master France evacuate its soldiers, as demanded by a junta that took power in July.
Protesters gathered at a French military facility in response to a request from various civic organisations opposed to France’s military involvement in the West African country.
They held banners that read, “French army, leave our country.”
The demonstration was boosted by fresh arrivals in the afternoon and a dense crowd formed at a roundabout near the French military base on Niamey’s outskirts.
Niger’s military regime had fired a new verbal broadside at France on Friday, accusing Paris of “blatant interference” by backing the country’s ousted president, as protesters held a similar rally.
President Mohamed Bazoum, a French ally whose election in 2021 had stoked hopes of stability in the troubled country, was detained on July 26 by members of his guard.
Relations with France, the country’s former colonial power and ally in its fight against jihadism, went swiftly downhill after Paris stood by Bazoum.
On August 3, the regime announced the scrapping of military agreements with France, which has about 1,500 soldiers stationed in the country, a move that Paris has ignored on the grounds of legitimacy.
The agreements cover various timeframes, although one of them dating from 2012 is set to expire within a month, according to military leaders.
The military rulers have also announced the immediate “expulsion” of the French ambassador Sylvain Itte and said they are withdrawing his diplomatic immunity. They said his presence constituted a threat to public order.
But French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday hailed Itte’s work in Niger and said he remained in the country despite being given a 48-hour deadline to leave Niger last Friday.
Article 22 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states that embassy premises are “inviolable” and that agents of the host state “may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission”.