After the attack on the embassy, France is carrying out the evacuation of its citizens.
Amid growing anti-French sentiment following the recent coup in Niger, France has commenced the evacuation of its citizens from the country.
One of the three planes designated for evacuating European citizens, carrying 262 people, has safely arrived in Paris. However, France has clarified that it has no intention to repatriate approximately 1,000 French soldiers stationed in Niger as part of the effort to combat Islamist militants.
In response to the situation, Germany is encouraging its nationals to accept France’s assistance for evacuation, while Italy is also arranging a flight for its citizens.
Meanwhile, neighboring countries Burkina Faso and Mali, both former French colonies, have issued warnings against any forcible attempts to reinstate the ousted president, stating it would be considered a declaration of war.
These nations have turned towards Russia after experiencing their own coups in recent years, which adds complexity to the already tense situation in the region grappling with an Islamist militant insurgency.
Niger, being a significant Western ally in the fight against jihadist extremism in the Sahel, holds strategic importance due to its uranium-rich resources.
France and the US maintain military bases in Niger, but France relocated its regional counter-terror operations to Niger after Mali’s military leadership aligned with the Russian Wagner mercenaries in 2021.
On Sunday, protesters outside the French embassy in the capital Niamey chanted “Long live Russia”, “Long live Putin” and “Down with France”.
They also set fire to the walls of the embassy compound.
France sent planes because the closure of Niger’s airspace has made it impossible for people to leave by their own means.
There are an estimated 600 French nationals in Niger and fewer than 100 Germans.
Italy’s foreign ministry says there are about 90 Italians in Niamey out of a total of just under 500 countrywide, most of whom are in the military, the AFP news agency reports.
According to the Reuters news agency, Spain is also preparing to evacuate more than 70 Spaniards by air.
The UK is not organizing an evacuation and has urged its nationals in Niger to stay indoors, while the European Union said it was not planning to remove its staff for the time being.
The US also said it was not evacuating its citizens, seeing any immediate threat to them or its facilities, AFP reports.
The situation in Niamey was reported to be calm on Tuesday.
One of the French evacuees, Anthony Garcia, said he was packing as little as possible for the journey: “We were asked to take just a small bag with essentials because we can’t take the suitcase.”
Earlier, France had welcomed the ultimatum issued on Sunday by the West African bloc Ecowas, giving Niger’s junta a week to reinstate elected President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been confined to the presidential palace in Niamey.
Chad’s President Mahamat Idris Déby was in Niger the following day, leading mediation efforts on behalf of the Ecowas, and was pictured with Mr Bazoum.
These diplomatic moves prompted Burkina Faso and Mali to issue a joint statement threatening that if Ecowas intervened militarily, they would withdraw from the bloc and go to the defense of their eastern neighbor.
They said such an intervention would be disastrous and destabilizing.
Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea are all currently suspended from Ecowas following coups in recent years.
Ecowas’s last major military intervention was in The Gambia in 2017 when Yahya Jammeh refused to step down as president after losing elections to Adama Barrow. After West African troops were deployed, Mr. Jammeh went into exile in Equatorial Guinea.
The regional body also sent troops to support Guinea-Bissau’s government last year following a failed coup attempt there.
Algeria, Niger’s neighbor to the north, has also urged caution over any possible military intervention, saying it “would lead to an escalation of the current crisis”.
Niger’s junta has not commented on the Ecowas demand but vowed to defend the country from any “aggression” by regional or Western powers. It accused France of planning military intervention.
But on Monday evening, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told French channel BFMTV the allegation was not true.
She suggested the coup, which has been welcomed by the shadowy Wagner group, could be seen as an opportunity for Russia: “I am not sure that everyone in Niger sleeps with a Russian flag under their pillow.
“But it is possible that Russia tries to take advantage of the situation. It does it in other countries of the region. It’s a hypothesis.”
At a briefing on Tuesday, the White House’s National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US had no evidence that Russia was behind the coup.
According to Reuters, the evacuation plans will not affect the operations of French nuclear fuel company Orano in Niger, as it said most of its staff were Nigerien nationals.
There are no good options in Niger. The West looks set to lose its strategic counter-terror bases there and military intervention by Ecowas would almost certainly lead to a civil war.
The current evacuation of French nationals is quite likely to be followed by the abandonment of US and French military bases and the departure of their 2,500 troops that have been engaged in helping Niger fight jihadist insurgents.
So who benefits from all this? Certainly not the population of Niger. The presence of Western forces was far from universally popular, but the country was receiving hundreds of millions of euros in annual financial aid and military assistance. That has now stopped.
Russian flags have appeared on the streets suspiciously quickly, so it is likely that Russia’s Wagner group will be looking to fill in behind the departing troops.
And for the jihadists of Boko Haram and the al-Qaeda and Islamic State groups active across the Sahel, all this disruption and uncertainty is a strategic gift.