Niger’s coup leaders have closed the country’s airspace after rejecting an ultimatum from West African states to reinstate deposed President Mohamed Bazoum or risk military intervention.
The move, announced late on Sunday, came as tens of thousands of coup supporters gathered at a stadium in Niger’s capital, Niamey, to cheer on the generals who seized power – or the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP).
Amadou Abdramane, a spokesman for the CNSP, cited the threat of military intervention from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the airspace closure.
In a statement read out on national television, Abdramane said there had been a pre-deployment of forces in two Central African countries in preparation for intervention, but did not give details.
“In the face of the threat of intervention, which is becoming clearer through the preparation of neighbouring countries, Niger’s airspace is closed from this day on Sunday … for all aircraft until further notice,” he said.
“Niger’s armed forces and all our defence and security forces, backed by the unfailing support of our people, are ready to defend the integrity of our territory,” he added.
The coup in Niger on July 26 is the seventh in West and Central Africa in three years. It has rocked Africa’s Sahel region, which is battling armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) and is among one of the poorest areas in the world.
ECOWAS has condemned the coup, imposing severe economic and travel sanctions, including cutting off Niger’s power supply. The bloc’s defence chiefs have agreed on a possible military action plan, including when and where to strike if the country’s detained leader is not released and reinstated by Sunday.
ECOWAS has not said what its next steps would be or when exactly on Sunday its deadline expires.