West African leaders put military forces on ‘standby’ for Niger coup

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West African leaders have ordered the region’s security chiefs to put their military forces on “standby” as they seek to increase pressure on Niger’s ruling junta following last month’s coup.

The Economic Community of West African States said in a statement released at the end of an emergency summit in Nigeria on Thursday that all options for a peaceful solution were on the table as it reiterated its demand for the release of ousted President Mohammed. Basoom and restore constitutional order.

The stand-by order leaves open the option of military intervention in Niger, whose now-ruling National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland ignored ECOWAS’ August 6 deadline and reinstated pro-Western Bassum. Ecowas said on Thursday that the ruling coalition had “blocked” its mediation efforts.

As fears were raised over Bazoom’s well-being, the regime had earlier announced a series of cabinet appointments as part of efforts to strengthen its grip on power. Supporters of the ousted president have complained that he is being held “on bail” and has been denied access to fresh food, medicine or doctors since last week.

His Nigerian Democratic and Socialist Party said the president was surviving on basic food in “inhumane” and “horrific” conditions, without running water or electricity.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “concerned” for Bazoum’s health and safety and called for the president’s “immediate, unconditional release and his reinstatement as head of state”.

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Ecowas has threatened to use military force if necessary to restore constitutional order, but domestic opposition in Nigeria has limited the scope of any potential intervention.

The military regime led by General Omar Diziani, who was previously Basoom’s presidential guard, has rejected diplomatic efforts to resolve the unfolding crisis. The African Union and ECOWAS denied the convoy permission to travel to Niamey this week after closing the country’s airspace.

A meeting with Tchiani was ruled out during what US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland described as “difficult” talks in Niamey with other junta leaders this week.

But the military junta met with Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, a former central bank governor of Nigeria and an influential Islamist leader. He met Tsiani and briefed Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu on his return to Abuja, allowing diplomatic talks to resume.

Since last month’s coup, Niger has been hit by Ecowas sanctions, which have sharply increased prices of food and basic goods in the landlocked country of 25 million people, which relies heavily on its neighbors for supplies. Nigeria, which supplies most of Niger’s electricity, cut off power, causing a long blackout.

Rissa Ag Paula, a former rebel leader, announced on Wednesday that he was forming an anti-coup organization and was committed to reinstating Bassum, the first sign of internal discontent against the coup leaders.

Niger’s cabinet is headed by newly appointed Prime Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Sain, who will serve as finance minister for eight years until 2010, and will serve twice as finance minister.

Colonel Amadou Abdramane, who has been acting as spokesman for the military junta since announcing the coup on July 26, will head the Ministry of Youth and Sports. General Salifo Modi, a former army chief and second-in-command in the military junta, is the defense chief. General Mohammed Doomba was appointed as the Minister of Interior.

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Bakary Yaou Sangaré, a career diplomat elected by Bazoum in March as Niger’s permanent representative to the UN, will serve as foreign minister.

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