Military chiefs from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) were set to hold talks Wednesday in the Nigerian capital Abuja about last week’s coup in Niger, while several European nations work to evacuate their nationals from Niger.
ECOWAS said in a brief statement the Committee of Chiefs of Defense Staff would discuss the “political situation in the Republic of Niger” in their meetings lasting through Friday.
An ECOWAS delegation was also expected to arrive Wednesday in Niger’s capital for talks with junta members.
France’s military and foreign ministry worked to carry out multiple evacuation flights Wednesday from Niger.
The foreign ministry said the first two flights that landed in Paris carried more than 350 French nationals along with people from Niger, Portugal, Belgium, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Germany, Canada, India, Austria and the United States.
Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani shared a photo of an Italian air force plane that he said had landed early Wednesday with Italians who left Niger.
Reuters reported the flight carried 36 Italians, 21 U.S. citizens, four Bulgarians, two Australians and one citizen each from Britain, Niger, Hungary, Senegal and Nigeria.
Spain also said it planned an evacuation flight for its nationals.
The U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by telephone Tuesday with Niger President Mohamed Bazoum, who was ousted by the military junta.
Blinken expressed “unwavering support” for Bazoum and Niger’s democracy, the State Department said.
“He underscored that the United States rejects efforts to overturn the constitutional order, and stands with the people of Niger, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and international partners in support of democratic governance and respect for the rule of law and human rights.”
In another call with African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, Blinken and Mahamat reiterated calls for Bazoum’s immediate release, said the State Department.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Washington is still assessing the situation before determining whether to pull its military assistance from Niger, a key counterterrorism ally in the region.
“Our hope, and what we are working on, is that the military will stand down and allow President [Mohamed] Bazoum to resume his authority,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters.
Ambassador of Niger in the U.S. Mamadou Kiari Liman-Tinguiri told VOA Tuesday, “President Bazoum is physically doing well and mentally strong. I’m following the situation with sadness, as any Nigerien abroad.”
Military leaders put Bazoum under house arrest on July 26 and named General Abdourahamane Tchiani, commander of the presidential guard, as their new leader on Monday. Coup leaders said they were acting in response to what they described as a worsening security situation and the government's lack of action against jihadis.
Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern over the reported arrest of several members of Niger’s government. Guterres’ spokesman said the U.N. chief is urgently calling for the strict adherence to the country’s international human rights obligations and the prompt restoration of constitutional order.
“The secretary-general underscores the utmost importance of safeguarding civilians and ensuring humanitarian assistance reaches those in need in Niger,” spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters.
He added that the U.N. and its humanitarian partners are committed to remaining in Niger and continuing their work. More than 4 million people in the country require humanitarian assistance.
Guterres’ West Africa envoy, Leonardo Santos Simao, told reporters in a video briefing from Accra, Ghana, that the United Nations is not involved in any negotiations and is playing a supporting role to regional bloc ECOWAS.
ECOWAS has imposed sanctions against the coup leaders and set a one-week deadline Sunday for Bazoum’s return to power. Otherwise, it will consider the use of force.
Liman-Tinguiri said, “This attempt of coup has no reason whatsoever, and it has to stop, it has to fade. But it will have consequences, if we let it go. Consequences are those that will come from the cutting of all influx of cash we are receiving from outside.”
Burkina Faso and Mali, two of Niger’s neighbors operating under military governments, issued a joint statement Monday saying any military action against Niger would be considered “a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali.”
Guinea, another neighboring junta-led country, expressed its opposition to the ECOWAS sanctions and the possibility of military intervention.
Santos Simao said the priority is to find a peaceful solution to the situation.
He also raised concerns that if the situation is not reversed, terrorism, which is rampant in the Sahel region, could spread further.
Margaret Besheer reported from the United Nations. Abdourahmane Dia of VOA’s French to Africa service contributed to this report. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.