Niger's prime minister says aiming for ‘very swift' withdrawal of French forces
The Prime Minister of Niger’s military government says "contacts" are underway to prepare for a “very swift” withdrawal of French forces from the country as anti-France sentiments continue to soar in West Africa.
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."
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.