Soldiers detain Niger's President Bazoum, raising coup fears Soldiers from Niger's presidential guard have blockaded the presidential palace, and regional African leaders condemned the move as an "attempted coup."

Niger's presidential guard has detained President Bazoum, raising fears of a coup

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

An attempted coup is understood to be taking place in the West African country of Niger. The president has been held by his own guards in his own residence since this morning. In the last few hours, gunfire has been heard on the streets of the capital.

Let's bring in NPR Africa correspondent Emmanuel Akinwotu. He is in neighboring Nigeria. And Emmanuel, what do we know? What details do we have in what sounds like a really rapidly changing situation?

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Yes, absolutely. You know, this morning, there were a group of soldiers from the presidential guard, and they blocked the entrance to the presidency and other ministry buildings and have basically held the president, Mohamed Bazoum, under arrest. And it's been striking that, you know, whilst this has gone on, we've not really seen the kind of armed resistance from the Army or the National Guard that we might otherwise see in coups, you know? So we're really waiting to see how this unfolds knowing that the consequences for Niger and the wider region in the Sahel and West Africa could really be profound.

You know, this is a big, largely impoverished country suffering from multiple Islamist insurgencies. And Niger is a country that has a history of coups and attempts - you know, as recently as a few years ago when it had its first democratic transfer of power during elections. So this could really unravel what were really fragile democratic gains. In the last few hours, there have actually been protests of hundreds of people marching towards the presidential palace. And we also saw footage of the National Guard essentially firing live rounds and protesters scurrying away. So this is really an unfolding and dramatic situation.

KELLY: Yeah. What kind of response are you seeing from the international community?

AKINWOTU: Well, it's been swift and strong, especially regionally - you know, the kind of response we've not always seen in response to other coups in West Africa in recent years. You know, ECOWAS is the regional bloc, and the African Union - they've both swiftly, you know, condemned this and said it stands with the Nigerian government. And actually, a government delegation from here in Nigeria have just arrived in Niamey, the capital of Niger, to have talks with the presidential guard. And, of course, there's been reaction from international allies like the United States. The State Department spokesman, Vedant Patel, told reporters earlier today that the U.S. was really gravely concerned about these developments.

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VEDANT PATEL: We strongly support the democratically elected president, President Bazoum, and we condemn, in the strongest terms, any efforts to seize power by force and disrupt the constitutional order. We also call for the immediate release of President Bazoum and respect for the rule of law and public safety.

AKINWOTU: You know, Niger is probably the U.S.'s strongest ally in this region. And there have been successive military coups in countries like neighboring Mali, you know, that has actually severed ties with Western countries and where the Russian-backed mercenary group, the Wagner Group, has - now has a significant presence.

KELLY: Yeah, not to mention the presence of U.S. troops on the ground in Niger. What is the likely impact of today's development? Just set it in context for us because this whole region has already been wracked by instability.

AKINWOTU: Yeah, absolutely. You know, the potential destabilization here could really be grave. You know, the Sahel has suffered immensely over the last decade from Islamist insurgencies. You know, it's killed really an untold number of people, left millions displaced, in desperate need, in one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

Niger's a landlocked country, you know? It's just south of Libya, wedged between Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad. And Chad is itself desperately trying to avoid the war in Sudan from spilling into its country. So really, there's a major diplomatic effort now to avert this and to stop this spilling over and unraveling in the region. So many of the countries surrounding Niger will be watching this very closely.

KELLY: Thank you, Emmanuel.

AKINWOTU: Thanks very much.

KELLY: That's NPR's Africa correspondent Emmanuel Akinwotu reporting from Nigeria on the situation next door, in Niger.

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