Thousands rallied Saturday in Niger’s capital Niamey to demand that former colonial ruler France withdraw its troops as sought by a junta which seized power in July.
The protesters gathered near a base housing French soldiers following a call by several civic organisations hostile to the French military presence in the West African country.
They held up banners proclaiming “French army leave our country”.
The demonstration was boosted by fresh arrivals in the afternoon and a dense crowd formed at a roundabout near the French military base on Niamey’s outskirts.
Niger’s military regime had fired a new verbal broadside at France on Friday, accusing Paris of “blatant interference” by backing the country’s ousted president, as protesters held a similar rally.
President Mohamed Bazoum, a French ally whose election in 2021 had stoked hopes of stability in the troubled country, was detained on July 26 by members of his guard.
Relations with France, the country’s former colonial power and ally in its fight against jihadism, went swiftly downhill after Paris stood by Bazoum.
On August 3, the regime announced the scrapping of military agreements with France, which has about 1,500 soldiers stationed in the country, a move that Paris has ignored on the grounds of legitimacy.
The agreements cover various timeframes, although one of them dating from 2012 is set to expire within a month, according to military leaders.
The military rulers have also announced the immediate “expulsion” of the French ambassador Sylvain Itte and said they are withdrawing his diplomatic immunity. They said his presence constituted a threat to public order.
But French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday hailed Itte’s work in Niger and said he remained in the country despite being given a 48-hour deadline to leave Niger last Friday.
Article 22 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states that embassy premises are “inviolable” and that agents of the host state “may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission”.