Niger’s airspace was closed due to the perceived “threat of intervention” as the junta defied the deadline set by the West African bloc ECOWAS for the reinstatement of democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum. The junta’s defiance has raised the likelihood of facing potential military action as a consequence.
The ultimatum was issued by ECOWAS a week ago, asking the generals to relinquish power by midnight Sunday (2300 GMT). On July 26, Bazoum was overthrown after being detained by the members of his own guard at the presidency.
“Faced with the threat of intervention, which is becoming clearer through the preparation of neighbouring countries, Niger’s airspace is closed from this day on Sunday… for all aircraft until further notice,” said the junta, in a statement which was released shortly before the deadline was crossed.
“Any attempt to violate the country’s airspace would meet with an energetic and immediate response”, the statement further read.
The now-ruling National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP), in a separate statement, said that there was “pre-deployment in preparation for intervention” which was made by two Central African nations, without naming them. “Any state involved will be considered co-belligerent,” it stated.
Earlier on Sunday (August 6), nearly 30,000 supporters of the coup gathered at Seyni Kountche stadium in the capital Niamey, for cheering on the CNSP. At the stadium, which was named after the first coup d’etat leader of Niger in 1974, CNSP leaders which included General Mohamed Toumba greeted a jubilant crowd.
Russian flags were used to drape the venue and portraits of CNSP leaders were carried by the supporters.
CNSP leader General Mohamed Toumba said, “He (General Abdourahamane Tiani) has asked us to tell you that your commitment and determination will not be betrayed.” “Today’s gathering is testimony to your commitment and determination to change Niger. We invite you to stay mobilised,” he further stated.
ECOWAS military chiefs of staff on Friday (August 4) agreed on a plan for possible intervention to respond to the crisis.
“We want diplomacy to work, and we want this message clearly transmitted to them (the military) that we are giving them every opportunity to reverse what they have done,” said ECOWAS commissioner Abdel-Fatau Musah.
However, he warned that “all the elements that will go into any eventual intervention have been worked out”, which includes how and when force would be deployed.