Thousands Protest in Niger’s Capital for Departure of US Troops

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Students and several prominent figures from the military regime were amongst the crowd gathered Saturday in front of the National Assembly Headquarters in Niamey.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Niger’s capital on Saturday to demand the immediate departure of US soldiers from the north, after the ruling military junta further shifted its strategy by withdrawing from a military accord with the United States and welcoming Russian military instructors.

Following a July coup, the West African country said in mid-March that the 2012 cooperation agreement that had allowed around 1,000 US military personnel to operate on its territory out of two bases had been “unilaterally imposed” by Washington. 

Marching arm in arm through central of the capital Niamey, the crowd waved Nigerien flags in a demonstration that recalled anti-French protests that spurred the withdrawal of French troops from Niger last year after the army seized power in the coup that ousted elected President Mohamed Bazoum last July.

Students and several prominent figures from the military regime were amongst the crowd gathered Saturday in front of the National Assembly Headquarters in Niamey. 

The crowd was heard chanting “Down with American imperialism” and “The people’s liberation is on the march”. 

One hand-written sign in English read “USA rush out of Niger”, in a show of support for the junta and its March decision to revoke the 2012 military accord that had allowed around 1,000 American soldiers remain based in Agadez city in the north. 

“We’re here to say no to the American base, we don’t want Americans on our soil,” protester Maria Saley said on the sidelines of the march.

“They said they (the Americans) were going to leave, so let them leave in peace and quickly,” shouted Sheikh Ahmadou Mamoudou, a well-known religious leader.  

Flags from Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Russia were visible but organisers asked the protesters to refrain from slogans insulting the US or burning its flags. 

Until the July coup, Niger had remained a key security partner of France and the US, which used it as a base as part of international efforts to curb a decade-old Islamist insurgency in West Africa’s Sahel region.

But Niger’s new authorities have joined juntas in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso in ending military deals with one-time Western allies, quitting the regional political and economic bloc ECOWAS and fostering closer ties with Russia.

In late March, Niger said the US would submit a proposal to “disengage” its soldiers from the country. Washington declined to comment, but said it contacted Niger to “obtain clarification”.  

It is unclear, however, if or when the US troops will leave.

The top US general appeared to suggest in March that there was at least some support from within Niger’s junta for a continued US military presence despite its announced revocation of the military accord.