Thousands of people have rallied in the Nigerien capital, Niamey, demanding that France withdraw its ambassador and troops from the West African country as its new military rulers have accused the former colonial power of “interference”.
The protesters gathered near a military base housing French soldiers on Saturday after a call by several civic organisations hostile to the French military presence. They held up banners proclaiming, “French army, leave our country.”
Niger’s military government, which seized power on July 26, has accused French President Emmanuel Macron of using divisive rhetoric in his comments about the coup and seeking to impose a neocolonial relationship with its former colony.
Macron has backed deposed President Mohamed Bazoum and refused to recognise Niger’s new rulers. Sylvain Itte, France’s ambassador, has remained in Niger, despite a 48-hour deadline to leave the country given more than a week ago, a decision Macron said he “applauds”.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Niamey, said demonstrators expressing frustration about there still being French presence in the country were beginning to take matters into their own hands.
According to security personnel, the protest was scheduled to begin about 3pm (14:00 GMT) but thousands of demonstrators had already gathered by 10am (09:00 GMT), taking police and security forces by surprise.
Idris said the protests that have taken place over the past few days have been “relatively calm and organised” but that, on Saturday, demonstrators were seen “breaking the barriers set up by the security forces, the police and the military” and approaching the base with some trying to force their way in.
The military has since reinforced the area around the French base, which houses about 1,500 French troops, and warned against forceful entry and about the repercussions that would follow.
“All military bases. We want to fight to remove from our country all military bases,” said protester Doubou-Kambou Hamidou. “We don’t want it. Because for more than 13 years, terrorism has been here. They don’t care to fight terrorism.”