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Coup leaders in Niger arrest opponents and take steps to set up new government

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's been three weeks since security forces ousted the elected president of Niger, and the coup's leaders appear to be tightening their grip on power.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Neighboring countries in Africa have imposed sanctions and threatened military intervention in an attempt to reverse the coup. But so far, those efforts have failed. Pressure by the U.S. and France, who had seen Niger as one reliable democratic ally in an increasingly unstable region, also hasn't worked yet. Now the coup leaders are arresting opponents and taking steps setting up their own new government.

FADEL: NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu joins us from Lagos, Nigeria, with an update. Good morning.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So, Emmanuel, rhetoric from the military leaders who have taken over sounds increasingly defiant. What should we take from that?

AKINWOTU: Yes. You know, it's been three weeks since the coup now, and the Niger military leaders have moved really quickly and quite aggressively so far. They've been resisting major diplomatic pressure against them. They've arrested many of the cabinet ministers and replaced them with figures that really suggest that they're making a strategic, long-term look at control of the country. They've cut formal diplomatic ties with France, its former colonial ruler, with Nigeria and Togo - initially with the U.S., too. Although high-level discussions and relations are ongoing. They've quickly moved to restore relations with military regimes in Mali and Burkina Faso. You know, these are countries that were isolated by most of the region in West Africa, including by the now-deposed Niger government, because those countries have had military takeovers, too.

FADEL: So the countries that want to reverse this coup, including the U.S., are they continuing to put pressure on the junta?

AKINWOTU: Yes. And the headline move really was the seven-day ultimatum by the regional block of West African countries. That's called ECOWAS. And the ultimatum was to reverse the coup or release President Mohamed Bazoum, who's still being detained, or face the possibility of military intervention. And that ultimatum lapsed. The Niger military called their bluff. Intervention now appears unlikely, and, really, that only succeeded in creating a siege mentality among the Niger coup leaders.

They announced earlier this week they would actually try Bazoum for treason. And clearly, they are holding him as important leverage. There's a meeting of ECOWAS leaders tomorrow, and we'll see what comes out of that. But for now, the sanctions are ongoing. Power supply from Nigeria has been cut. There are now power cuts in parts of Niger. Aid has been cut from France. And many people in this very poor country are grappling with these power cuts, with the economic impact of this. But the junta is consolidating power

FADEL: Now, some 25 million people live in Niger. Maybe these sanctions are aimed at the coup leaders, but how is this impacting them? What can you tell us about life under this new military rule?

AKINWOTU: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it's hard to get a clear picture of this, but it seems very polarizing. We've had a lot of visible support for the coup, mainly in the capital, where the governments are really unpopular. And, you know, we've seen pro-coup demonstrations in the streets, a rally in a stadium. But there's also upset. Anti-coup protests were dispersed by soldiers, and there's unease in other parts of the country. You know, this is a very poor, landlocked country in a fragile part of the world, battling multiple insurgencies by armed groups. Before the coup, Niger was held for its democratic gains and handover of power. But it had a very flawed system, and it faces now a very uncertain and worrying future.

FADEL: That's NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu, reporting on the situation in Niger from Lagos, Nigeria.

AKINWOTU: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA'S "FLOWERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.