Niger Junta Leaders Claim Ousted President Bazoum Attempts Escape

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Niger’s military rulers said they had foiled an attempt by Mohamed Bazoum, the former president they ousted in a coup in July, to escape their custody on Thursday.

The interim authorities said that Bazoum and his family, with the help of accomplices in the security forces, planned to drive a vehicle to the outskirts of the capital Niamey and catch a helicopter to neighboring Nigeria.

“The strong reaction of the defense and security forces made it possible to foil this plan to destabilize our country,” a military spokesman said on national television.

Reporters were not able to confirm the account or reach Bazoum, whose whereabouts was unknown.

Recall that Niger’s coup was one of five that have swept West Africa’s central Sahel region in three years, leaving a vast band of arid terrain south of the Sahara Desert under the control of military rulers.

Like elected presidents in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, Bazoum was pushed out in part because of mounting insecurity caused by an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands in the region and which the military said it would be able to contain better than a civilian government.

Bazoum’s party and family members said he has had no access to running water, electricity or fresh goods, prompting condemnation from former western allies.

Also on Thursday, the first group of French soldiers, ordered out of Niger by its post-coup military rulers, arrived by road in N’Djamena, the capital of neighboring Chad.