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Thousands rally in Niger demanding withdrawal of French troops

Protesters rally outside a French military base, calling for the ambassador and about 1,500 soldiers to leave.

Thousands of people have rallied in the Nigerien capital, Niamey, demanding that France withdraw its ambassador and troops from the West African country as its new military rulers have accused Niger’s former colonial ruler of “interference”.

The protesters gathered near a base housing French soldiers after a call by several civic organisations hostile to the French military presence. They held up banners proclaiming, “French army, leave our country.”

Niger’s military government, which seized power on July 26, has accused French President Emmanuel Macron of using divisive rhetoric in his comments about the coup and seeking to impose a neocolonial relationship with its former colony.

Macron has backed ousted President Mohamed Bazoum and refused to recognise the new rulers. Sylvain Itte, France’s ambassador, has remained in Niger despite a 48-hour deadline to leave the country given more than a week ago, a decision Macron said he “applauds”.

Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Niamey, said demonstrators expressing frustration there is still a French presence in the country were beginning to take matters into their own hands.

According to security personnel, the protest was scheduled to begin about 3pm (14:00 GMT), but thousands of demonstrators had already gathered by 10am (09:00 GMT), taking police and security forces by surprise.

Idris said the protests that have taken place over the past few days have been “relatively calm and organised”, but on Saturday, demonstrators were seen “breaking the barriers set up by the security forces, the police and the military” and approaching the army base with some trying to force their way in.

The military has since reinforced the area around the French base, which houses about 1,500 French troops, and warned against forceful entry and about the repercussions that would follow.

‘I speak every day to President Bazoum’: Macron

The military rulers have accused Paris of “blatant interference” by backing Bazoum, who has been in custody since the July 26 coup.

Comments by Macron in support of Bazoum “constitute further blatant interference in Niger’s domestic affairs”, Colonel Amadou Abdramane said in a statement read on nationwide TV.

Macron said on Friday that he had spoken daily with Bazoum since he was removed from power.

“We support him. We do not recognise those who carried out the putsch. The decisions we will take, whatever they may be, will be based upon exchanges with Bazoum,” Macron said.

The Sahel country is also embroiled in a standoff with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The regional bloc has threatened to intervene militarily if diplomacy fails to return Bazoum to office.

On Monday, Macron said: “I call on all the states in the region to adopt a responsible policy.”

France, he said, “supports [ECOWAS’s] diplomatic action and, when it so decides, [its] military” action.

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