France has begun evacuating its citizens and other Europeans from Niger, after a military junta overthrew the government last week.
The decision to begin evacuations was announced by the French Foreign Ministry on Tuesday 1 August – driven in part by growing anti-French sentiment in the country.
The junta has accused France of looking ‘for ways and means to intervene militarily in Niger’ – something the French government denies – having previously warned against foreign intervention in the country.
Additionally, thousands of pro-coup demonstrators surrounded the French embassy in the Nigerien capital of Niamey on Sunday, chanting anti-French and pro-Russian slogans.
In a statement, the French Foreign Ministry said: “Given the situation in Niamey, the violence that took place against our embassy the day before yesterday and the closure of the airspace, which is preventing our citizens from leaving by their own means, France is preparing the evacuation of its citizens and of European citizens who wish to leave the country.”
Following the coup, the junta announced that all of Niger’s land and air borders would be closed ‘until the situation has stabilised’. Additionally, a nationwide curfew has been declared, and the constitution and its institutions suspended.
According to a report by the Financial Times, France currently has approximately 1,500 soldiers stationed in Niger – the former colony became its main base for troops fighting jihadis in West Africa after they were withdrawn from Mali last year. The US also has 1,100 troops and a drone base to monitor jihadi groups in the region. French company Orano also has uranium mining operations in Niger.