NIAMEY (AFP) – Niger’s newly elected President Mohamed Bazoum was set to be sworn into office yesterday, a democratic watershed overshadowed by extremist violence and an alleged coup bid.
The inauguration will mark the first-ever transition between elected presidents in Niger’s six decades of independence from France – a historic moment that has been widely praised.
But the Sahel country’s instability and insecurity have been deeply underscored in the run-up to yesterday’s ceremony.
In the early hours of Wednesday, after gunfire broke out near the presidency in the capital Niamey, the government announced an “attempted coup” had been thwarted – a “cowardly and regressive act which sought to threaten democracy and the state of law”.
The alleged coup leader is an air force officer in charge of security at Niamey’s air base and is being “actively sought”, a source within Niger’s security services told AFP on Wednesday.
Another security source said “a few members of the army” had been behind the coup but had been prevented from approaching the presidential palace by the elite Presidential Guard.
“Some arrests” were made, the source said.
United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was among worried foreign leaders, calling on the armed forces “to strictly abide by their constitutional obligations”.
The inauguration ceremonies were to take place in the Niamey International Conference Centre.
Several foreign presidents were expected, while France – Niger’s closest ally in its fight against extremism – was due to send its Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Bazoum, 61, is a former interior minister and right-hand man of outgoing president Mahamadou Issoufou, 68, who has voluntarily stepped down after two five-year terms.
But his most formidable rival, former premier Hama Amadou, was banned from running because of a conviction for baby trafficking – a charge he has branded politically motivated.