An attempted coup is under way in the fragile state of Niger, sources and neighbouring countries have said, after members of the Presidential Guard detained President Mohamed Bazoum inside his palace in the capital Niamey.
Wednesday’s incident triggered a standoff with the army and has sparked global condemnation.
The West African bloc ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) also lashed what they called an “attempted coup d’etat”. ECOWAS called on the plotters to free Bazoum, while the AU urged the “felon” soldiers involved to return to barracks immediately.
The presidency’s official Twitter account said that Bazoum and his family were well, adding that guards engaged in an “anti-Republican demonstration” and tried “in vain” to obtain the support of the other security forces.
Who is in charge?
The palace and ministries next to it have been blocked off by military vehicles. Staff inside the palace were also unable to access their offices, according to reports, but there was calm elsewhere in Niamey.
Bazoum has appeared unwilling to accept the plotters’ demands and give up power.
Niger’s presidency said in a statement that the national army was ready to attack the guards if they did not come to their senses.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Abuja in neighbouring Nigeria, said there was a directive from the army for troops loyal to Bazoum to move in to quell what seemed to be a coup attempt.
Meanwhile, negotiations were under way between Bazoum’s camp and the leaders of the presidential guard, according to Idris.
The president of neighbouring Benin, Patrice Talon, said he was going to Niger on Wednesday to mediate after meeting with Nigeria’s president and ECOWAS leader Bola Tinubu.
Why has this happened?
It has remained unclear why there was a revolt but analysts said rising costs of living and perceptions of government incompetence and corruption may have driven the guards’ move.
There have been four military takeovers in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso since 2020.
Those coups were spurred in part by frustrations about authorities’ failure to stem a rebel uprising blighting the Sahel region.
There was also a thwarted coup attempt in Niger in March 2021, when a military unit tried to seize the presidential palace days before Bazoum who had just been elected, was due to be sworn in.
A military takeover in the former French colony could further complicate Western efforts to help countries in the region fight the rebellion that has spread from Mali over the past decade.
The incident potentially has implications given how much Western countries have invested in Niger in terms of money and security.
The country has been perceived by many as one of the last bulwarks against expanding insecurity in the region.
Ulf Leassing, an analyst with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, said that while Niger has appeared to be stable due to the influx of aid, this is always “a bit of an illusion”.
“The state is very weak, it’s very poor, and it doesn’t take much to overthrow a president in Niger,” he told Al Jazeera.
Niger is also a key ally of the European Union in its attempts to curb irregular migration from sub-Saharan Africa.
How did the international community react?
The UN led condemnation of the attempted coup and denounced any attempt to seize power by force in comments largely echoed by the European Union, the United States, and France.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “calls on all actors involved to exercise restraint and to ensure the protection of constitutional order,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The US said it condemned efforts to detain or subvert the functioning of Niger’s democratically elected government, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said, and urged the release of Bazoum.
The US Department of State in a separate statement also expressed strong support for the Niger president and said it was in communication with the US embassy in Niamey. The department said it was “gravely concerned about the developments in Niger”.
“The EU condemns any attempt to destabilize democracy and threaten the stability of Niger,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a social media post.
France also condemned any attempt to seize power and advised French citizens in Niamey to act with vigilance.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said Paris was watching the situation carefully, but “condemned attempts to take power by force”.
France moved troops to the country from Mali last year after its relations with the military government there soured.