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football news express:Coup leaders close Niger airspace as deadline passes to reinstate leader

Niger coup leaders close country's airspace
Niger coup leaders close airspace, ignore international deadline to reinstate president 05:17

Johannesburg — A regional bloc of 15 nations in West Africa that had given the military coup leaders Niger —one of its own member states — until Sunday to reinstate the country's democratically elected president said Monday that it would convene on Thursday to discuss the political situation. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had threatened military intervention if the junta that seized control last month did not relinquish power and reinstate ousted leader Mohammed Bazoum by August 6.  

On Sunday, however, it was the coup leaders who took action, closing Niger's airspace after rejecting the ECOWAS ultimatum. The Associated Press quoted a spokesman for the coup leaders, Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane, as noting "the threat of intervention being prepared in a neighboring country" as the junta shut down the skies over Niger.  

Demonstration of coup supporters in Niger
Mohamed Toumba, center, one of the leading figures of the post-coup government in Niger, which calls itself the National Council for the Protection of the Fatherland, attends a pro-coup rally at a stadium in Niamey, the capital city of Niger, August 6, 2023. Balima Boureima/Anadolu Agency/Getty

A source close to the ousted president told CBS News that Bazoum remained under house arrest, effectively held hostage along with his wife and son, without electricity, running water or cell-phone communication.  

"The house is surrounded by heavily armed soldiers, including some on the roof," the source said, adding that they were still confident Bazoum would resume his presidency soon.  

Military intervention has always been touted as a last resort by ECOWAS and some observers believe the bloc's hardline stance, with the August 6 ultimatum, was prompted by pressure from Western allies such as the U.S. and France.   

But it also reflects a fresh approach by the new chairman of ECOWAS, Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu, who is determined to protect member states and ensure their militaries don't get any coup ideas of their own.  

The putsch in Niger was the seventh coup in just three years in a region that's become known as Africa's "coup belt."  

Amid the threat of regional war, West African countries have been racing to pick a side. Nigeria, Senegal and Ivory Coast have said they would send troops, although the Nigerian Senate has yet to approve Tinubu's deployment request, insisting that the president explore options other than the use of force.  

In contrast, Burkina Faso and Mali — both ECOWAS members, but both ruled by military-backed governments ushered in by their own recent coups — have said any intervention in Niger would be considered a declaration of war against them, too. 

Algeria, which shares a long land border with Niger, has also warned against a military solution to the crisis.  

Niger's military rulers claim they seized power because of a deteriorating security and economic situation in the country, but there have also been suggestions the coup was staged after reports started circulating that the junta's leader, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, was about to be sacked as head of the elite presidential guard — a position he's held since 2011.  

Tchiani served as a battalion commander for ECOWAS forces during conflicts in Ivory Coast in 2003, and he knows exactly what an intervention mission by the bloc involves. 

Members of Niger's junta have met with counterparts in Burkina Faso and Mali, two countries that are clients of the Russia's mercenary group Wagner, which has been accused of widespread human rights abuses in African countries where its private army is deployed.  

Wagner mercenary group accused of atrocities in Africa 03:10

Shortly after the July 26 coup in Niger, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin offered his support for the rebellious generals. After his brief, failed mutiny in Russia, Prigozhin may be looking to refocus his company's efforts in Africa, and he could see uranium-rich Niger as a business opportunity.  

Some analysts have warned that if ECOWAS does go ahead with a military intervention, it could increase the risk of Wagner forces joining the fray, as the junta would launch into a desperate search for military support.

Tens of thousands of supporters came to a rally organized by the coup leaders at a stadium in Niger's capital city of Niamey on Sunday, cheering the generals' decision not to stand down in the face of ECOWAS' ultimatum. Some members of the crowd could be seen waving Russian flags.   

Niger is effectively the lynchpin of the United States' counterterrorism strategy in the wide region of northern Africa known as the Sahel. The country's recently deposed, civilian-led government was a key partner in Washington's fight against Islamic extremist insurgencies that have killed thousands of people and displaced millions more across the region. 

U.S. military personnel have been training local forces to fight extremist groups, with Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mali all battling to repel insurgents.   

There are about 1,100 U.S. troops in Niger, where the U.S. military operates out of two bases, and in 2017, Niger approved the use of armed American drones in the country to target militants.  

To date, Washington has stressed that it has no intention of pulling its troops out of Niger, but that it is monitoring the situation closely.  

With the threat of regional war looming, economic sanctions imposed by ECOWAS against Niger are already hitting hard in a country that's deeply impoverished and has been ravaged by food insecurity and the deadly effects of climate change.   

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