Niger junta says it will not reinstate president despite sanctions
The new leader of Niger junta, Abdourahamane Tiani, said on Wednesday he would not bow to pressure to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, Reuters reported.
The defiance by will intensify a standoff with the West African bloc which has threatened to intervene after last week's coup.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has imposed sanctions on Niger and said it could authorize the use of force if the coup leaders do not restore Bazoum's presidency within a week from last Sunday.
In a televised address, Tiani said the junta "rejects these sanctions altogether and refuses to give into any threats, wherever they come from. We refuse any interference in the internal affairs of Niger."
The ECOWAS bloc sent a delegation to Niger on Wednesday to negotiate with the military officers who seized power, hoping to find a diplomatic solution before they have to decide whether or not to intervene.
ECOWAS has struggled to contain a democratic backslide in West Africa and had vowed that coups will no longer be tolerated after military takeovers in member states Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea and an attempted coup in Guinea-Bissau in the last two years.
"The military option is the very last option on the table, the last resort, but we have to prepare for the eventuality," said ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security, Abdel-Fatau Musah.
Nigeria cut power supplies to Niger, a Niger state utility document showed on Wednesday, while truckers in Niamey were stranded by border closures - early signs of fallout from the bloc's sweeping sanctions that Tiani described as "illegal, unjust, and inhumane."
Tiani, the former head of Bazoum's presidential guard, shut Bazoum in his palace last Wednesday and later declared himself head of state.
The 15-nation regional bloc has taken its hardest line yet on the coup, prompting Mali and Burkina Faso, also ruled by juntas, to say that any military intervention in Niger would be considered a declaration of war against them too.
The coup has been condemned by foreign powers.
"The UK very much welcomes ECOWAS' actions and [they] are indeed decisive actions with a strong commitment to democracy," said British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly after meeting Nigerian President Bola Tinubu on Wednesday.
In a further sign of the mounting pressure on the junta, the World Bank on Wednesday suspended disbursements to Niger until further notice.
The United States said it was set to evacuate some staff and families from its embassy in Niger even as the mission remains open and senior leadership continues working there.
France and Italy have been evacuating European citizens from Niger amid growing fears of conflict. The first military planes carrying European nationals landed in Paris and Rome on Wednesday.