Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in the Nigerien capital to voice their support for the country’s military leaders, who seized power from pro-Western officials in a coup last month.
The rallies swept Niamey on Sunday, with participants chanting slogans against the country’s former colonial power France and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
ECOWAS, which is West Africa’s main regional bloc, has threatened Niger’s coup leaders with military intervention to reinstate the country’s former authorities.
Niger’s new leaders, who toppled President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, allege that France, a close ally of Bazoum, is behind ECOWAS’ anti-coup stance.
The demonstrators waved placards reading, “Stop the military intervention” and “No to sanctions,” in reference to financial and trade bans imposed on Niger by ECOWAS less than a week after the coup.
Despite mounting pressure, coup leader General Abdourahamane Tiani said in a Saturday address to the nation that the military leaders do not plan to “confiscate” power.
He added that the junta would launch a national dialogue on a transition back to civilian rule, which “should last no longer than three years.”
Neither coup leaders nor “the Nigerien people want war and remain open to dialogue,” he added.
His remarks came after on Saturday, an ECOWAS delegation arrived in Niger’s capital in what the bloc called was a final diplomatic push before deciding on whether to take military action.
The delegation was met at the airport by the junta-appointed prime minister and was also allowed to meet with Bazoum, in a sign of openness to negotiations on the part of the coup leaders.
Tiani, however, warned that “if an aggression were to be undertaken against us, it would not be the walk in the park that some believe.”
On Saturday, thousands of the junta’s supporters gathered at a stadium in Niamey, where the crowding caused the postponement of an unofficial census of civilian volunteers for nonmilitary roles if ECOWAS actually resorted to force.
Thousands of mostly young men gathered outside the stadium hours before the scheduled start time of the event. The gathering has been seen by observers as a sign of the strong support in some quarters of Niger’s society for the junta.