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Niger's Government Says Military Coup Attempt Thwarted

FILE - Niger's newly elected president Mohamed Bazoum gestures as he delivers a speech at his party headquarters, in Niamey, Feb. 23, 2021.

Niger's government says an attempted military coup was stopped Wednesday, two days before the new president is due to take office.

An army unit in the West African country tried to seize the presidential palace in Niamey overnight in an attempted coup, says the government. According to three security sources, the assailants came from a nearby air base and fled after the presidential guard attacked them with heavy shelling and gunfire.

"Several people have been arrested and others linked to the events are being actively sought," said a statement from government spokesman Abdourahmane Zakaria.

Zakaria added that "the government condemns this cowardly and retrogressive act that aims to endanger democracy and the rule of law to which our country is resolutely committed."

The U.S. Embassy in Niamey said on Twitter that it will be closed Wednesday "due to gunshots heard near our neighborhood."

President Mahamadou Issoufou, who completed two five-year terms, is stepping down this week in what is to be Niger's first-ever peaceful transfer of power. President-elect Mohamed Bazoum, the ruling party candidate, will be sworn in Friday following an election victory disputed by his opponent, Mahamane Ousmane.

The coup attempt follows a surge in attacks by Islamist extremists, including massacres in villages near Niger's troubled border with Mali. An attack on March 21 killed an estimated 137 civilians.