Sam Mednick / AP Photo Supporters of Niger's ruling junta hold a Russian flag in Niamey, Niger, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023. Nigeriens are bracing for a possible military intervention as time's run out for its new junta leaders to reinstate the country's ousted president.

Niger’s junta shuts airspace and accuses regional countries of planning to invade as deadline passes

By Sam Mednick The Associated Press

Sam Mednick / AP Photo Supporters of Niger’s ruling junta hold a Russian flag in Niamey, Niger, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023. Nigeriens are bracing for a possible military intervention as time’s run out for its new junta leaders to reinstate the country’s ousted president.

NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — Niger’s mutinous soldiers closed the country’s airspace and accused foreign powers of preparing an attack, as the junta defied a deadline to reinstate the ousted president.

State television announced the move Sunday night, hours before the deadline set by West African regional bloc ECOWAS, which has warned of using military force if the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum isn’t returned to power.

A spokesman for the coup leaders, Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane, noted “the threat of intervention being prepared in a neighbouring country,” and said Niger’s airspace will be closed until further notice. The junta also claimed that two central African countries are preparing for an invasion, but did not say which ones, and called on the country’s population to defend it.

International airlines have begun to divert flights around the airspace of Niger, which the United States and others had seen as the last major counterterrorism partner in the vast Sahel region, south of the Sahara Desert, where groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are expanding their influence.

In Mali, the armed forces said today that it and Burkina Faso, both neighbors of Niger run by military juntas, were sending a delegation of officials to Niger to show support. Both countries have said they would consider any intervention in Niger as a “declaration of war” against them.

Regional tensions have mounted since Niger’s coup nearly two weeks ago, with the mutinous soldiers detaining Bazoum and installing Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, former head of the presidential guard, as head of state. Analysts say the coup is believed to have been triggered by a power struggle between Tchiani and the president, who was about to fire him.

It was not immediately clear what ECOWAS will do now that Sunday’s deadline has passed. The region is divided on a course of action. There was no sign of military forces gathering at Niger’s border with Nigeria, the likely entry point by land.

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