Niger’s military regime vowed late Sunday to prosecute ousted president Mohamed Bazoum for “high treason” and slammed West African leaders for imposing sanctions on the country.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions on Niger in response to the coup and has not ruled out using force against the army officers who toppled the democratically elected Bazoum on July 26.
The West African bloc has approved the deployment of a “standby force to restore constitutional order” in Niger as soon as possible but remains committed to finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Niger’s military leaders said they would prosecute Bazoum “for high treason and undermining the internal and external security of Niger”, according to a statement read out by Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane on national television.
Bazoum, 63, and his family have been held at the president’s official Niamey residence since the coup, with international concern mounting over his conditions in detention.
A member of his entourage said he saw his doctor on Saturday.
“After this visit, the doctor raised no problems regarding the state of health of the deposed president and members of his family,” the military said.
They also said sanctions imposed on Niger had made it difficult for people to access medicines, food and electricity, and were “illegal, inhumane and humiliating”.
– ‘Open to diplomacy’ –
The comments came just hours after religious mediators met with coup leader General Abdourahamane Tiani, who indicated his regime was open to a diplomatic breakthrough.
Tiani “said their doors were open to explore diplomacy and peace in resolving the matter”, said Sheikh Bala Lau, a day after his Nigerian Muslim delegation held talks in the capital Niamey.
Tiani “claimed the coup was well intended” and that the plotters “struck to stave off an imminent threat that would have affected” Nigeria as well as Niger, according to Lau’s statement.
But Tiani said it was “painful” that ECOWAS had issued an ultimatum to restore Bazoum without hearing “their side of the matter”, the statement added.
The Muslim leaders visited Niamey with the blessing of Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who is also head of ECOWAS.
Tinubu has adopted a firm stance against the coup, the sixth to hit an ECOWAS member state since 2020.
The bloc has severed financial transactions and electricity supplies and closed borders with landlocked Niger, blocking much-needed imports to one of the world’s poorest countries.
On July 30, it issued a seven-day ultimatum to restore Bazoum or face the potential use of force, but the deadline expired without the new rulers backing down.
The bloc scrapped a Saturday crisis meeting on the coup due to be held in Ghana’s capital Accra for “technical reasons”.
Demonstrations in favour of the new military rulers have become a common sight in Niamey.
Thousands of people attended concerts on Sunday at the Seyni Kountche Stadium in support of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP), the generals who have taken power.The crowd, mainly made up of young people, brandished the flags of Niger as well as those of Burkina Faso, Mali and Russia.
The prospect of a military intervention to reinstate Bazoum has divided ECOWAS members and drawn warnings from foreign powers including Russia and Algeria.
Niger’s neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso, also ruled by military governments who seized power in coups, have said an intervention would be tantamount to a declaration of war on them.