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Niger’s Detained President, Mohamed Bazoum, Pleads for U.S. Help

The president of Niger, who has been detained by his own guards since last week, has called on the United States and other allies to help restore constitutional order in the West African nation, warning that attacks from jihadist groups could increase and that Russia could expand its influence in the region if the coup leaders remain in power.

The plea came just days before a deadline that other West African countries have given in a threat to go to war against the coup leaders, despite skepticism that the nations will take military action.

“I write this as a hostage,” President Mohamed Bazoum said in an opinion essay published in The Washington Post on Thursday evening. “Niger is under attack from a military junta that is trying to overthrow our democracy.”

Since Mr. Bazoum was detained on July 26, the United States and some European countries have partly suspended ties with Niger, a country that depends heavily on foreign aid. The Nigerien public has already faced power cuts and cash shortages amid economic sanctions imposed by its neighbors in response to the coup, and hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid could be endangered. Niger, a country of 25 million, is among the world’s poorest.

For a leader removed from power nine days earlier, Mr. Bazoum was in a highly unusual situation on Friday: Unlike other ousted leaders in the region in recent years, he has refused to formally resign, and he and his family are being held in his private residence by members of his own presidential guard.

He has spoken by telephone with officials including Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and President Emmanuel Macron of France. And on Sunday, President Mahamat Idriss Déby of neighboring Chad, who visited him, posted a photograph of the smiling imprisoned president on social media.

Mr. Bazoum, who is 63, did not detail in his essay the conditions in which he was being detained, or how he had been able to write the text.

Senior Nigerien diplomats still call Mr. Bazoum their boss, and some of his close advisers have spoken with reporters since the coup attempt. But in the past few days their phones have gone silent amid a wave of arrests of government officials and senior members of his party.

“This is not another coup as usual,” Kiari Liman-Tinguiri, Niger’s ambassador to the United States, said in an interview this week.

Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, who claims to be in charge of Niger, said in a television address on Wednesday that he had seized power to restore security and fight corruption.

The Economic Community of West African States, a regional bloc known as ECOWAS, has given him an ultimatum to hand back power before Monday. And several countries have said they are ready to send troops for a military intervention if Niger does not return to democratic rule.

But analysts have said that a military intervention is unlikely, at least in the short term, and many experts say Mr. Bazoum is unlikely to be reinstalled in power. West African defense chiefs gathered in Nigeria this week said that a military intervention was “the last resort.”

Since his election in 2021, Mr. Bazoum had strengthened partnerships with the United States and Europe, in contrast with neighboring countries like Burkina Faso and Mali that have moved closer to Russia.

Under his watch, attacks on civilians by militant groups have decreased, and Niger’s economy grew 7 percent last year. As Mr. Bazoum said in his essay, “Foreign aid makes up 40 percent of our national budget, but it will not be delivered if the coup succeeds.”

He also said that hundreds of people had been imprisoned since the coup, a claim that could not be independently verified and that has not been documented publicly.

Mr. Bazoum added that neighboring countries like Burkina Faso and Mali that are run by military officials were faring worse on security issues. He accused them of employing “criminal Russian mercenaries such as the Wagner Group at the expense of their people’s rights and dignity.”

On Wednesday, one of the Nigerien coup leaders visited Burkina Faso and Mali.

The Wagner group has about 1,500 troops in Mali, allied with the military regime there. Despite rumors, there is no evidence that Burkina Faso’s junta leaders have worked with the group. Its founder, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, has praised the coup in Niger and offered Wagner’s services to the new rulers, although it is unclear what operational control he still has over the group in Africa after his failed mutiny in Russia in June.

Some African leaders have warned about the threat posed by Wagner on the continent, although some analysts caution that those leaders may be exaggerating the group’s influence in the region to attract Western support. Wagner mercenaries have been deployed in African countries including Libya, Mali and Sudan.

As of Friday morning, Nigerien public television had yet to mention Mr. Bazoum’s essay.



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Mohammad SHiblu

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