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Niger Junta Leaders Claim Ousted President Bazoum Attempted to Escape

FILE - Niger President Mohamed Bazoum at the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger, March 16, 2023.
FILE - Niger President Mohamed Bazoum at the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger, March 16, 2023.

Niger's junta said Thursday that it had thwarted an escape attempt by ousted President Mohamed Bazoum who has been imprisoned by the military since a July 26 coup despite international calls for his release.

The interim authorities said that Bazoum and his family, with the help of accomplices in the security forces, planned to drive a vehicle to the outskirts of the capital Niamey and catch a helicopter to neighboring Nigeria.

"The strong reaction of the defense and security forces made it possible to foil this plan to destabilize our country," a military spokesman said on national television.

Reuters was not able to confirm the account or reach Bazoum, whose whereabouts are unknown.

Niger's coup was one of five that have swept West Africa's central Sahel region in three years, leaving a vast band of arid terrain south of the Sahara Desert under the control of military rulers.

Like elected presidents in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, Bazoum was pushed out in part because of mounting insecurity caused by an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands in the region and which the military said it would be able to contain better than a civilian government.

Bazoum's party and family members say he has had no access to running water, electricity or fresh goods, prompting condemnation from former western allies.

Also on Thursday, the first group of French soldiers, ordered out of Niger by its post-coup military rulers, arrived by road in N'Djamena, the capital of neighboring Chad.

The convoy "has arrived without any particular problems" in N'Djamena after 10 days on the road and in coordination with Nigerien forces, army spokesperson Pierre Gaudilliere told Agence France-Presse.

The troops will depart by air from Chad to France, with the pullout expected to be completed by the end of December.

Roughly 1,400 soldiers were based in the capital Niamey and western Niger to battle fighters linked to the Islamic State group and al-Qaida, bringing with them fighter jets, drones, helicopters and armored vehicles, as well as the equipment to support them.

France has supported ousted President Bazoum since the coup and is calling for his release, as are several other countries and organizations. But the military regime remains inflexible for now.

Some material for this report came from Agence France-Presse.

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