Paris, Aug . 1, 2023
France has begun evacuating its citizens from Niger following last week’s military coup, with the first plane transporting more than 260 people from the capital Niamey, said a top French official.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said on social media on Tuesday evening that twelve babies were on board the flight.
It was initially unclear whether non-French nationals were also on board.
Another plane was scheduled to leave later in the night, according to the French General Staff.
A third plane was reportedly also being made available.
France had offered to evacuate people from other European countries as well. The Foreign Ministry in Berlin had earlier advised Germans in Niger to accept the offer.
Paris said it was getting out its citizens following the closure of Niger’s airspace, which risks leaving people trapped in the country.
There had also been violent protests in support of the military coup which saw officers from General Omar Tchiani’s elite unit ousting President Mohamed Bazoum last Wednesday.
Demonstrators gathered in front of the French embassy and reportedly tore down the embassy plaque, trampled on it and replaced it with Nigerien and Russian flags.
Niger’s new military junta accused France of planning military intervention in the country.
Shortly after Tchiani’s coup, he declared himself the de facto president of Niger, suspended the country’s constitution and dissolved all constitutional institutions.
France does not recognize the new rulers and is calling for a return to constitutional order around democratically elected Bazoum.
There had been about 500 to 600 French citizens in Niger, as well as French soldiers who are stationed in the country.
The former colonial power France has about 2,500 soldiers stationed in Niger as well as in neighbouring Chad. Niger was recently one of its last local partners in the counter-terrorism fight in the wider Sahel region.
Other European countries were also looking to evacuate their citizens in the wake of the unrest.
Italy would fly its citizens out of Niger on a special flight, said Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, who put the number of Italians in Niger at 100. He said Italy’s embassy in Niamey will remain open.
The Spanish Foreign Ministry is also working on the evacuation of 70 or so citizens, reported Spanish public broadcaster RTVE.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock thanked her French counterpart for helping to fly German nationals out of Niger.
“The top priority for the government at this time is, of course, the safety of German nationals in the country.
“As in previous crises, we are coordinating closely with France and our other European partners in this regard,” Baerbock said in a statement circulated by the Foreign Ministry.
Niger is also of interest to the EU because of its uranium, but the European Commission said on Tuesday the supply was secure.
Uranium is a naturally occurring radioactive heavy metal.
The raw material is used for the operation of nuclear power plants, with Niger being an important supplier for some European Union countries.
For the medium and long-term, there are enough deposits on the world market to cover the EU’s needs, said a spokesman. (