An attempted coup was underway Wednesday in the fragile nation of Niger, where members of the Presidential Guard detained President Mohamed Bazoum, triggering a standoff with the army, sources said.
The head of the West African bloc ECOWAS said Benin President Patrice Talon was heading to Niger on a mediation bid after the region was struck by a new bout of turbulence.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union both decried what they called an “attempted coup d’etat,” while the UN secretary-general said he had spoken to the apparently-detained leader and offered support.
One of a dwindling group of pro-Western leaders in the Sahel, Bazoum was elected in 2021, taking the helm of a country burdened by poverty and a history of chronic instability.
Disgruntled members of the elite Presidential Guard sealed off access to the president’s residence and offices in the capital Niamey, and after talks broke down “refused to release the president,” a presidential source said.
“The army has given them an ultimatum,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In a message posted on social media, the president’s office said “elements of the Presidential Guard (PG) had a fit of temper… (and) tried unsuccessfully to gain the support of the national armed forces and the national guard.”
“The army and national guard are ready to attack the elements of the PG who are involved in this fit of temper if they do not return to a better disposition,” the presidency said.
“The president and his family are well,” it added. The reason for the guards’ anger was not disclosed.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, noting that Niger is a “critical partner” of the U.S., also condemned any impediments to the functioning of Niger’s democratically elected government.
“We specifically urge elements of the presidential guard to release President Bazoum from detention and refrain from violence,” Sullivan said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Bazoum on Wednesday, conveying his support for him.
In the call, Blinken “emphasized that the United States stands with the Nigerien people and regional and international partners in condemning this effort to seize power by force and overturn the constitutional order,” the State Department said in a statement.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby noted that while he couldn’t provide an estimate of the number of Americans currently in Niger, he advised all Americans in the country to be careful.
UN chief Antonio Guterres spoke with the Niger president on Wednesday afternoon, his spokesman stated, and “expressed his full support and solidarity.”
Earlier, Guterres had condemned “any effort to seize power by force.”
“Spontaneous demonstrations by democracy advocates broke out all over the city of Niamey, inside the country and in front of Niger’s embassies abroad after the announcement this morning that President Bazoum is being held in his palace by his guard,” Niger’s presidential office later wrote on social media Wednesday.
The landlocked state has experienced four coups since independence from France in 1960 as well as numerous other attempts on power, including against Bazoum himself.
Lying in the heart of the arid Sahel, Niger is two-thirds desert and persistently ranks at the bottom, or near it, in the UN’s Human Development Index, a benchmark of prosperity.