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Civil society in Niger mobilizes to demand freedom from foreign interference

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Civil society in Niger mobilizes to demand freedom from foreign interference

NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — Niger’s ruling junta and civil society groups called on the population to mobilize in the capital on Thursday to fight for the country’s freedom and reject foreign interference.

“We are talking about the immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces,” Mahaman Sanoussi, interim coordinator of the civil society group M62, which organized the protest, told The Associated Press. “(We will mobilize) against all forms of threats to continue the fight for the sovereignty of the people. The dignity of the Nigerian people will be respected by all without exception.”

The march coincides with the West African nation’s independence day from its former colonial power, France, and at the height of anti-French sentiment more than a week after mutinous soldiers toppled the democratically elected president. Protests were expected in the capital, Niamey, against foreign interference.

The military coup has been strongly condemned by Western countries, many of which saw Niger as the West’s only reliable partner in combating jihadists linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State group in Africa’s Sahel region. Russia and Western countries have vied for influence in the fight against extremism.

France has 1,500 soldiers in Niger conducting joint operations with its army, while the United States and other European countries have helped train the country’s troops.

In a message to the nation on Wednesday, the new military ruler, General Abdourahmane Tchiani, lashed out at neighboring countries and the international community, calling on the population to stand ready to defend the country.

Tchiani said that difficult times would come for Niger and that the “hostile and radical” attitude of those who opposed his rule did not add any value. He called the harsh sanctions imposed last week by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) illegal, unfair, inhumane and unprecedented.

ECOWAS has also threatened to use force if ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, who remains under house arrest, is not released and reinstated by 6 August.

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In a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, dozens of representatives from civil society organizations, professional groups and unions spoke with the coup leaders about their vision for the country. M62’s Sanoussi was at the meeting and said the junta had discussed their priorities for the country, such as protecting it from violence.

But another member of civil society who attended and who did not want to be identified for security reasons told the AP that he left the meeting worried. He had gotten the impression that the French army was going to be driven out of the country soon and that members of civil society would help the junta to do so.

At the meeting, Tchiani spent a lot of time talking about the history of the foreign military presence in the region and France’s involvement, without mentioning it directly, and called on those present to help maintain the country’s integrity. Tchiani also did not seem concerned about an ECOWAS intervention or Bazoum’s resignation – something that has not happened yet – and said the president was no longer in power, the civil society member said.

Nigerians are now preparing for what may happen. The sanctions announced by ECOWAS included halting the transfer of power to Niger, which receives up to 90% of its power from neighboring Nigeria, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Power transmission from Nigeria and Niger was cut off this week, according to an official from a major Nigerian power company who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to report on the matter. He did not say how much of Niger’s power the cut would mean, but any reduction would affect the population of an impoverished country of more than 25 million people.

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Associated Press writer Zane Irwin in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.

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