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Niger’s prime minister: Contacts underway for ‘very swift’ withdrawal of French forces

The Prime Minister of Niger’s military government says "contacts" are underway to pave the way for “very swift” withdrawal of French forces from the country as anti-France sentiments continue to soar among Nigeriens.

Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine made the remark at a press conference on Monday, saying “the contacts that are underway should enable a very swift withdrawal” of French forces from the West African country, where around 1,500 French soldiers are present.

The premier, however, said Niger wished “to maintain cooperation with a country with which we have shared an enormous number of things.”

Relations between Niamey and Paris have seen a serious downturn since a military coup on July 26 overthrew the government of Niger’s former pro-Western president, Mohamed Bazoum.

On August 3, Niger’s new rulers announced the scrapping of military agreements with France. Ever since, Nigeriens have been holding daily demonstrations in front of a military base housing the French forces in the capital, threatening to storm the facility if French troops refused to leave.

The prime minister noted that as a result of the renunciation of those agreements, the French troops in Niger were now “in a position of illegality.”

Thousands of Nigeriens protest against France's military presence for 3rd straight day

Niger’s military leaders also expelled France’s ambassador Sylvain Itte in late August after withdrawing his diplomatic immunity. They gave Itte 48 hours to leave, saying his presence constituted a threat to public order and accusing France of meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

Referring to the showdown over the French ambassador, Zeine said the envoy had displayed “an attitude of contempt” by refusing to meet with Niger’s new authorities on August 25.

“Niger hopes for deal with ECOWAS”

Elsewhere in his remarks, the new Nigerien premier said his country hoped to reach an agreement with the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, which has threatened to invade Niger militarily to restore Bazoum and slapped sanctions on the country.

“We have not stopped contacts with ECOWAS, we are continuing contacts. We have good hopes of reaching an agreement in the coming days,” Zeine said.

Although Niamey has not ruled out dialogue with the West African bloc, it has warned that it is ready to defend itself in case of a military intervention.

Coup leader: Niger open to dialogue, ready to defend itself if needed

Touching on ECOWAS’ military threats, the premier said, “We are bracing to be attacked at any time. Every preparation has been taken. It would be an unjust war. We are determined to defend ourselves if there is an attack.”

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