Niger’s Coup Leaders Close Airspace Amidst Regional Strife
In a dramatic turn of events, the leaders of Niger’s recent coup have announced the temporary closure of the country’s airspace, citing concerns about the potential for military intervention from neighboring nations. The move comes as tensions escalate over the fate of President Mohamed Bazoum, who was detained by the military on July 26th. The junta’s decision to shutter the airspace has effectively halted all air traffic, with tracking website Flightradar24 indicating a complete absence of aircraft in Niger’s skies.
The West African Economic Community (Ecowas) had previously issued a stern warning that it might resort to military force if President Bazoum was not reinstated by a given deadline. This ultimatum passed as midnight struck on Sunday, ratcheting up the pressure on the junta to reverse its actions. However, the coup leaders appear steadfast in their refusal to cede power, evidenced by a defiant rally attended by thousands of supporters in Niger’s capital, Niamey.
The situation has attracted international condemnation, with former colonial power France, the European Union, the United Nations, and the United States all criticizing the military takeover. Ecowas, a regional bloc comprising 15 West African countries, including Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and Ghana, is at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to address the crisis. The group’s military chiefs recently concluded a crisis meeting in Nigeria, where they developed a comprehensive plan for a potential intervention.
Abdel-Fatau Musah, Ecowas Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security, expressed the bloc’s commitment to diplomatic resolution, stating, “We want diplomacy to work, and we want this message clearly transmitted to them [Niger’s junta] that we are giving them every opportunity to reverse what they have done.” Nevertheless, preparations for a military intervention are in place, indicating Ecowas’ determination to uphold its ultimatum.
The junta’s decision to close Niger’s airspace is rooted in their assertion that “a foreign power” is plotting an attack on the country. The coup leaders have emphasized that Niger’s armed forces are fully prepared to defend the nation against external threats. This assertion has raised concerns among neighboring countries, particularly Burkina Faso and Mali, both Ecowas members suspended due to past military juntas. These nations have warned that any outside military intervention in Niger would be regarded as “a declaration of war” against them.
The crisis adds a layer of complexity due to Niger’s status as a significant uranium producer, a resource vital for nuclear power generation. Under President Bazoum, the country played a pivotal role in the fight against Islamist militants in the Sahel region of West Africa. As diplomatic efforts continue, the fate of Niger hangs in the balance, with regional stability and international relationships at stake.
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