French nationals “have never been the object of the slightest threat” in Niger, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, the commander of the country’s presidential guard who declared himself the head of a transitional government after last week’s military coup, said Wednesday.
In a televised speech on the eve of the country’s 63rd independence anniversary from France that falls on Aug. 3, Tchiani said the French have “no objective reason to leave Niger.”
Niger’s former colonial masters, France and Italy, have been evacuating their citizens from Niger following the coup. The first military planes landed in Paris and Rome on Wednesday.
France has evacuated about 350 French nationals so far.
Last Sunday, coup supporters shouting slogans against France attacked the French embassy in Niger’s capital Niamey, days after the military coup.
Tchiani later called on the protesters to refrain from vandalism and the destruction of public or private property or foreign properties.
On Wednesday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc sent a delegation to Niger to engage the coup leaders on peaceful means to resolve the crisis as regional defense chiefs met in neighboring Nigeria’s capital Abuja.
The delegation was led by former Nigerian head of state Abdulsalami Abubakar and the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Abubakar, a prominent traditional leader and cleric.
ECOWAS leaders at an emergency summit last Sunday imposed heavy sanctions on Niger and warned that other means, including the use of force, could be considered if the coup leaders refuse to reinstate elected President Mohamed Bazoum within a week.
But in Wednesday’s speech, the coup leader struck a hard stance, saying the junta would “not give in to threats” to restore the deposed President Bazoum.
“We refuse any interference in the internal affairs of Niger” and “reject these sanctions altogether.”
-Regional defense chiefs meet
Meanwhile, at a meeting of regional defense chiefs in neighboring Nigeria on Wednesday, Nigeria’s Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Christopher Gwabin Musa called on the military chiefs from 13 ECOWAS nations to work as a united front in the face of challenges of restoring democratic governance in Niger.
“We must face the challenges of restoring democratic governance in Niger head-on, drawing on our shared experiences, wisdom and collective resolve. Our decisions will send a strong message about our commitment to democracy, our intolerance for unconstitutional changes of government, and our dedication to regional stability,” he said.