Niger’s mutinous soldiers closed the country’s airspace and accused foreign powers of preparing an attack, as the junta defied a deadline to restore the ousted president.
Niger’s state television announced the move on Sunday night, hours before West African regional bloc ECOWAS had demanded that the coup leaders reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum or face military force.
In his televised address, coup spokesperson, Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane said “The National Council for the Safeguard of the Country is launching a vibrant appeal to its youth, the noble sons and daughters of our country, that they be ready to defend our country.”
The July 26 coup, in which mutinous soldiers installed Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani as head of state, adds another layer of complexity to West Africa’s Sahel region that’s struggling with military takeovers, spreading Islamic extremism and a shift by some states toward Russia and its proxy, the Wagner mercenary group.
An ECOWAS delegation was unable to meet with Tchiani, who analysts have asserted led the coup to avoid being fired.
Now the junta has reached out to Wagner for assistance while severing security ties with former colonizer France.
Algeria and Chad, non-ECOWAS neighbors with strong militaries in the region, have said they oppose the use of force or won’t intervene militarily, and neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso — both run by juntas — have said an intervention would be a “declaration of war” against them, too.
It was not immediately clear on Sunday what ECOWAS will do next.