Emmanuel Macron has announced that French troops in Niger, as well as France’s ambassador and its diplomatic staff, will leave the country.
The news comes following months of protests against the French military and diplomatic presence in the country by Niger’s new military rulers and their supporters.
Macron said yesterday that diplomatic staff would be evacuated in the coming hours while French troops will be leaving Niamey in the upcoming weeks and months.
“The French military presence will come to an end by the end of this year,” he added.
Macron reaffirmed France’s position that the ousted pro-West president Mohamed Bazoum was being held “hostage” and remained the “sole legitimate authority” in the country.
“He was targeted by this coup d’etat because he was carrying out courageous reforms and because there was a largely ethnic settling of scores and a lot of political cowardice,” he said.
Macron also noted that France’s military presence in Niger was in response to a request from Niger’s government at the time.
France’s exit comes after weeks of pressure from the military and popular demonstrations. Thousands of people have protested in recent weeks in the capital Niamey, including outside a military base housing French soldiers.
Niger’s new rulers, who had been demanding France’s exit after Macron refused to recognise the new government, welcomed the French president’s announcement.
“This Sunday, we celebrate a new step towards the sovereignty of Niger,” they said in a statement read out on national television. “This is a historic moment, which speaks to the determination and will of the Nigerien people,” they added.
The development comes as France’s troops have also been asked to leave its former colonies Mali and Burkina Faso.
Niger was plunged into turmoil on July 26, when Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani, a former commander of the presidential guard, led a military intervention that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.
At the end of August, Niger’s military administration ordered the expulsion of French Ambassador Sylvain Itte, but Paris refused.
Also in August, the West African nation had announced that it was closing its airspace due to the “threat of intervention from neighboring countries,” as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened military action to restore Mohamed Bazoum.
Meanwhile, Niger’s military administration has banned French aircraft from flying over the country’s airspace, according to the regional air safety organization, ASECNA.
“Niger’s airspace is open to all national and international commercial flights except for French aircraft or aircraft chartered by France including those of the airline Air France,” it said in a statement dated late Saturday.
“The air space would remain closed for all military, operational and other special flights, unless receiving prior authorization,” the statement added.