France will evacuate French and European citizens from Niger starting on Tuesday, its foreign ministry said, days after a junta seized power in the west African country.
Niger’s borders have been closed to commercial flights since military officers ousted President Mohamed Bazoum and his democratically elected government last Wednesday, in the seventh military takeover in less than three years in West and Central Africa.
The coup has sent shockwaves across the Sahel region, where Niger’s Western allies fear losing influence to Russia, and has raised security fears as groups linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda have been gaining ground in the area for years.
France has had troops in the Sahel for a decade helping to fight an Islamist insurgency, but some locals say they want the former colonial ruler to stop intervening in their affairs.
On Sunday, supporters of the junta burned French flags and attacked the French embassy in Niger’s capital, Niamey, prompting police to fire volleys of tear gas in response.
“Considering the situation in Niamey, the violence against our embassy the day before yesterday and the fact that the air space is shut and our citizens cannot leave by their own means, France is preparing the evacuation of its citizens and European citizens who wish to leave the country,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The evacuation will start today,” it said.
According to the French foreign ministry website, there were just under 1,200 French nationals in Niger in 2022.
But French media including paper Le Monde said only around 600 were in the country right now as many families with children were on holiday. The foreign ministry declined to give a precise figure but spoke of “several hundreds.”
Italy also said on Tuesday it would offer a special flight to repatriate its nationals from the capital Niamey.
The United States, Germany, and Italy have troops in Niger on counterinsurgency and training missions. There has been no announcement of troops being evacuated so far.