Lazy eyes listen
Thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the French military installation in Niamey, Niger’s capital, to demand that French forces withdraw from the country. A appeal from civic organizations opposed to the former colonial power’s military presence in the region prompted the gathering.
A series of smaller rallies building up to the weekend rally were “relatively calm and organized,” according to Al Jazeera. On Saturday, however, some of the activists were observed “breaking the barriers set up by the security forces, police, and the military” and attempting to force their way into the base, which houses some 1,500 soldiers.
“French army, leave our country,” read banners hoisted by protesters in Niamey.
Despite warnings by the French military that it would respond if their military and diplomatic facilities were targeted in the renewed tensions, the demonstrators refused to leave.
“We want to fight to remove from our country all military bases,” a protester told Al Jazeera. “We don’t want it. Because for more than 13 years terrorism has been here. They don’t care to fight terrorism,” he said.
Niger’s military government has accused Paris of “blatant interference” by backing the ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, who has been in custody since July 26.
On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron stated he talks to the deposed Nigerien leader “every day,” and he backed Bazoum’s administration. The words sparked a backlash from Niger’s military chiefs, who accused the French president of employing “divisive rhetoric and seeking to perpetrate neo-colonial relationship.”
Colonel Amadou Abdramane, Niger’s military government spokesman, responded to Macron’s remarks, saying they “constitute further blatant interference in Niger’s domestic affairs,” adding that Niger’s “differences” with France “do not touch on the relationship between our peoples, or on individuals, but on the relevance of the French military presence in Niger.”
The military rulers declared the cancellation of military deals with France last month and demanded the “immediate expulsion” of the French ambassador, Sylvain Itte. The envoy’s diplomatic immunity had been revoked because his presence was deemed to be a threat to public order.
France has refused to withdraw Itte from his old colony, claiming that despite pressure from “illegitimate authorities,” the ambassador will remain in Niamey.