As world pressure mounts on leaders of coup in Niger, junta ends mandates of US, France, Nigeria and Togo

Nigeriens hold Niger and Russian flags as they gathers with thousands of anti-sanctions protestors in support of the putschist soldiers in the capital, Niamey, on August 3, 2023. The sign reads "Where was ECOWAS during the terrorist attacks in Niger". (REUTERS/Mahamadou Hamidou)
Short Url
Updated 04 August 2023
Follow

As world pressure mounts on leaders of coup in Niger, junta ends mandates of US, France, Nigeria and Togo

  • The US has offered general support for the effort of regional bloc ECOWAS to reinstate toppled President Mohamed Bazoum
  • Junta threatened an immediate response to any “aggression or attempted aggression,” saying force would be met with force

NIAMEY: Niger’s coup leaders on Thursday evening announced they were ending the mandates of ambassadors to four countries, as they face international pressure to restore the democratically elected leader they ousted last week.

“The functions of the extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassadors of the Republic of Niger” to France, Nigeria, Togo and the United States “are terminated,” one of the putschists said in a statement read on national television.

The junta faces international pressure to restore ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, with threats of force by regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States, currently chaired by Nigerian President Bola Tinubu.

The junta also threatened an immediate response to any “aggression or attempted aggression.”

Any aggression or attempted aggression against the State of Niger will see an immediate and unannounced response from the Niger Defense and Security Forces on one of (the bloc’s) members,” read the statement.




General Abdourahmane Tiani, who was declared as the new head of state of Niger by leaders of a coup, arrives to meet with ministers in Niamey on July 28, 2023. (REUTERS)

This came with “the exception of suspended friendly countries,” an allusion to Burkina Faso and Mali, neighboring countries that have also fallen to military coups in recent years.

Those countries’ juntas have warned any military intervention in Niger would be tantamount to a “declaration of war” against them.

Nigeria, West Africa’s pre-eminent military and economic power, is the current ECOWAS chair and has vowed a firm line against coups.

Military chiefs of the bloc’s member countries met in Nigeria on Wednesday for three days of consultations.

Outside the continent, global condemnation has been led by the United States and former colonial power France, which have about 1,000 and 1,500 troops in the country, respectively.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States “stands very much” in support of West African leaders who have threatened to use force to restore the nation’s democracy, and Senegal offered troops to help.

As hundreds of anti-French protesters rallied in the Nigerien capital in support of the ruling junta, Blinken offered general support for the regional bloc known as ECOWAS, though he did not specifically refer to its threat of military action. Blinken told reporters in New York that the US believes the bloc’s efforts to reinstate toppled President Mohamed Bazoum are “important, strong and have our support.”
Senegal’s foreign affairs minister said her country would participate in a military intervention if ECOWAS decides to take action. “Senegalese soldiers have to go … these coups d’état must be stopped,” Aissata Tall Sall said.

Meanwhile, Niger’s military leaders sought to exploit anti-Western sentiment to shore up their takeover. The junta suspended broadcaster RFI and France 24 television from broadcasting in the country, according to the French foreign affairs ministry. The suspensions were part of the junta’s “authoritarian repression,” the ministry wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Last week’s coup toppled Bazoum, whose ascendency marked Niger’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence from France in 1960. The coup stirred strident anti-French sentiment and raised questions about the future of the fight against extremism in Africa’s Sahel region, where Russia and Western countries have vied for influence.

The coup has been condemned by Western countries and the ECOWAS bloc, which has threatened to forcibly remove the junta if it does not hand back power to Bazoum. As tensions have grown in the capital of Niamey and the region, many European countries have moved to evacuate their citizens.
At Thursday’s protest organized by the junta and civil society groups on Niger’s independence day, protesters pumped their fists in the air and chanted support for neighboring countries that have also seen military takeovers in recent years. Some waved Russian flags, and one man brandished a Russian and Nigerien flag sewn together.
“For more than 13 years, the Nigerien people have suffered injustices,” protester Moctar Abdou Issa said. The junta “will get us out of this, God willing … they will free the Nigerien people.”
“We’re sick of the French,” he added.
It remains unclear whether a majority of the population supports the coup, and in many parts of the capital, people went about their lives on Thursday as normal.
US President Joe Biden used the occasion of Niger’s independence day to call for Bazoum to be released and democracy restored.
“The Nigerien people have the right to choose their leaders. They have expressed their will through free and fair elections — and that must be respected,” he said in a statement.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the administration was still focused on diplomacy.
“We still believe there’s time and space for that. The window is not going to be open forever,” Kirby said.
In an address to the nation on Wednesday, the new military ruler, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, lashed out at those who have condemned the coup and called on the population to be ready to defend the nation. He said harsh sanctions imposed last week by ECOWAS were illegal, unfair and inhuman.
There were fears the junta could limit the export of uranium from Niger, which contributes 5 percent of the global share, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The ECOWAS bloc has set a deadline of Sunday for the junta to reinstate Bazoum, who remains under house arrest.
At the expiration of the deadline, the bloc is expected to decide by consensus on the next step as recommended by its defense chiefs.
At a bloc meeting in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, Brig. Gen. Tukur Ismaila Gusau, a Nigeria defense spokesman, said the defense chiefs have been asked to come up with a military solution, which they hope will be “the last option.”
The bloc’s sanctions include halting energy transactions with Niger, which gets up to 90 percent of its power from neighboring Nigeria, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.
France has 1,500 soldiers in Niger who conduct joint operations with its military against jihadis linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group. The United States and other European countries have helped train Niger’s troops.
Niger was seen as the West’s last reliable partner in the region, but some in the country see Russia and its Wagner mercenary group, which operates in a handful of African countries, as a powerful alternative.
The new junta has not said whether it intends to ally with Moscow or stick with Niger’s Western partners, but that question has become central to the unfolding political crisis. Neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso — both ruled by juntas — have turned toward Moscow.
Even if Niger’s military rulers demand the withdrawal of French troops — as happened in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso — it wouldn’t make a difference, said Anne-Claire Legendre, a spokesperson for the French foreign minister.
“We don’t answer to the putschists. We recognize one constitutional order and one legitimacy only, that of President Bazoum,” she said Wednesday during a press briefing.
Ahead of Thursday’s demonstration, the French Embassy in Niamey asked Niger’s government to ensure the security of its premises after it was attacked by protesters and a door was set on fire.
The president of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, dispatched two delegations Thursday to deal with Niger’s crisis.
A group from ECOWAS headed by former Nigerian head of state Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar was on its way to Niger. A second group led by Ambassador Babagana Kingibe went to engage with the leaders of Libya and Algeria, said Ajuri Ngelale, special adviser to the president.
 


China to continue to strengthen ties with Iran, state media says

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. (AFP file photo)
Updated 22 May 2024
Follow

China to continue to strengthen ties with Iran, state media says

  • “Iran has lost outstanding leaders and China has lost good friends and partners, said Wang, according to Xinhua news

BEIJING: China will continue to strengthen strategic cooperation with Iran, safeguard common interests, and make endeavors for regional and world peace, Chinese state media reported on Tuesday, citing comments from Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Wang made the remarks in talks on Tuesday with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahdi Safari, while attending a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
“Iran has lost outstanding leaders and China has lost good friends and partners, said Wang, according to Xinhua news. “In this difficult time, China firmly stands by Iranian friends,” he said, referring to the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Sunday.

 


Ireland to announce recognition of Palestinian state on Wednesday, source says

Updated 22 May 2024
Follow

Ireland to announce recognition of Palestinian state on Wednesday, source says

  • The Irish government has said recognition would complement peace efforts and support a two-state solution

DUBLIN: The Irish government is to announce the recognition of a Palestinian state on Wednesday, a move strongly opposed by Israel, a source familiar with the matter said.
European Union members Ireland, Spain, Slovenia and Malta have indicated in recent weeks that they plan to make the recognition, possibly in a coordinated announcement, arguing a two-state solution is essential for lasting peace in the region.
The efforts come as a mounting death toll in Gaza from Israel’s offensive to rout Hamas prompts calls globally for a ceasefire and lasting solution for peace in the region.
Since 1988, 139 out of 193 UN member states have recognized Palestinian statehood.
The Irish government has said recognition would complement peace efforts and support a two-state solution.
Israel’s foreign ministry on Tuesday warned against the move, saying in a post on social media platform X that recognition would “lead to more terrorism, instability in the region and jeopardize any prospects for peace.”
“Don’t be a pawn in the hands of Hamas,” the ministry said.
Hamas holds around 125 hostages seized during its cross-border rampage on Oct. 7, which killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies, and triggered the war. Gaza medical officials say more than 35,000 have been killed during the Israeli offensive.
The Irish government on Tuesday evening said the prime minister and foreign minister would speak to the media on Wednesday morning but did not say what the topic would be.


Shaken passengers arrive in Singapore after turbulence-hit flight

Updated 15 min 26 sec ago
Follow

Shaken passengers arrive in Singapore after turbulence-hit flight

  • The airline said the aircraft was a Boeing 777-300ER with a total of 211 passengers and 18 crew on board
  • A 73-year-old British passenger died of a suspected heart attack and at least 30 people were injured

SINGAPORE: More than 140 passengers and crew from a Singapore Airlines flight hit by heavy turbulence that left dozens injured and one dead finally reached Singapore on a relief flight Wednesday morning after an emergency landing in Bangkok.
The scheduled London-Singapore flight on a Boeing 777-300ER plane diverted to Bangkok after the plane was buffeted by turbulence that flung passengers and crew around the cabin, slamming some into the ceiling.
A 73-year-old British passenger died of a suspected heart attack and at least 30 people were injured.
“I saw people from across the aisle going completely horizontal, hitting the ceiling and landing back down in like really awkward positions. People, like, getting massive gashes in the head, concussions,” Dzafran Azmir, a 28-year-old student on board the flight told Reuters after arriving in Singapore.
Photographs from the interior of the plane showed gashes in the overhead cabin panels, oxygen masks and panels hanging from the ceiling and luggage strewn around. A passenger said some people’s heads had slammed into the lights above the seats and punctured the panels.
Singapore Airlines took 131 passengers and 12 crew on the relief flight from Bangkok that reached Singapore just before 5 a.m. (2100 GMT). There were 211 passengers including many Australians, British and Singaporeans, and 18 crew on board the original flight; injured fliers and their families remained in Bangkok.
“On behalf of Singapore Airlines, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased,” Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong said in a video message.
Singapore’s Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) is looking into the incident, and the US National Transportation Safety Board is also sending representatives for support.
The plane encountered sudden extreme turbulence, Goh said, and the pilot then declared a medical emergency and diverted to Bangkok.
Aircraft tracking provider FlightRadar 24 said at around 0749 GMT the flight encountered “a rapid change in vertical rate, consistent with a sudden turbulence event,” based on flight tracking data.
“There were thunderstorms, some severe, in the area at the time,” it said.
The sudden turbulence occurred over the Irrawaddy Basin in Myanmar about 10 hours into the flight, the airline said. Turbulence has many causes, most obviously the unstable weather patterns that trigger storms, but this flight could have been affected by clear air turbulence, which is very difficult to detect.
Turbulence-related airline accidents are the most common type of accident, according to a 2021 NTSB study.
While the airline said 30 people were injured, Samitivej Hospital in Thailand said it was treating 71 passengers.
From 2009 through 2018, the US agency found that turbulence accounted for more than a third of reported airline accidents and most resulted in one or more serious injuries, but no aircraft damage.
Singapore Airlines, which is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading airlines and is a benchmark for much of the industry, has not had any major incidents in recent years.
Its last accident resulting in casualties was a flight from Singapore to Los Angeles via Taipei, where it crashed on Oct. 31, 2000 at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, killing 83 of the 179 people on board.
 

 


Over 1 million claims related to toxic exposure granted under new veterans law, Biden announces

Updated 22 May 2024
Follow

Over 1 million claims related to toxic exposure granted under new veterans law, Biden announces

  • In raw numbers, more than 1 million claims have been granted to veterans since Biden signed the so-called PACT Act into law in August 2022, the administration said Tuesday

NASHUA, N.H.: President Joe Biden, aiming to highlight his legislative accomplishments this election year, traveled to New Hampshire on Tuesday to discuss how he’s helped military veterans get benefits as a result of burn pit or other toxic exposure during their service.
“We can never fully thank you for all the sacrifices you’ve made,” Biden said to the veterans and their families gathered at a YMCA. “In America, we leave no veteran behind. That’s our motto.”
In raw numbers, more than 1 million claims have been granted to veterans since Biden signed the so-called PACT Act into law in August 2022, the administration said Tuesday. That amounts to about 888,000 veterans and survivors in all 50 states who have been able to receive disability benefits under the law.
That totals about $5.7 billion in benefits given to veterans and their survivors, according to the administration.
“The president, I think, has believed now for too long, too many veterans who got sick serving and fighting for our country had to fight the VA for their care, too,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough told reporters on Monday. PACT stands for “Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics.”
The PACT Act is relatively lower profile compared to the president’s other legislative accomplishments — such as a bipartisan infrastructure law and a sweeping tax, climate and health care package — but it is one that is deeply personal for Biden.
He has blamed burn pits for the brain cancer that killed his son, Beau, who served in Iraq, and has vowed repeatedly that he would get the PACT Act into law. Burn pits are where chemicals, tires, plastics, medical equipment and human waste were disposed of on military bases and were used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Before the law, the Department of Veterans Affairs denied 70 percent of disability claims that involved burn pit exposure. Now, the law requires the VA to assume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were related to burn pit or other toxic exposure without veterans having to prove the link.
Before Biden’s planned remarks, he went to a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Merrimack, New Hampshire. The president met there with Lisa Clark, an Air Force veteran who is receiving benefits through the PACT Act because her late husband, Senior Master Sergeant Carl Clark, was exposed to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, marked the milestone by praising the veterans who advocated for the law.
“For far too long, our nation failed to honor its promises to our veterans exposed to toxins in military conflicts across the globe— until we fought like hell alongside veterans to finally get the PACT Act signed into law,” Tester, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said.


Blinken says he’ll work with US Congress to respond to ICC move on Gaza

Updated 22 May 2024
Follow

Blinken says he’ll work with US Congress to respond to ICC move on Gaza

  • The United States is not a member of the court, but has supported past prosecutions, including the ICC’s decision last year to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration is willing to work with Congress to respond to the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders over the Gaza war, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday, amid Republican calls for US sanctions against court officials.
Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Blinken called the move “profoundly wrong-headed” and said it would complicate the prospects of reaching a hostage deal and a ceasefire in Israel’s conflict with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said on Monday he had reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s defense chief and three Hamas leaders “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Both President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and his political opponents have sharply criticized Khan’s announcement, arguing the court does not have jurisdiction over the Gaza conflict and raising concerns over process.
The United States is not a member of the court, but has supported past prosecutions, including the ICC’s decision last year to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine.
“We’ll be happy to work with Congress, with this committee, on an appropriate response” to the ICC move, Blinken said on Tuesday.
He did not say what a response to the ICC move might include.
In a later hearing, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Blinken he hoped to work together with the administration to express the United States’ opposition to the ICC prosecutor.
“What I hope to happen is that we level sanctions against the ICC for this outrage, to not only help our friends in Israel but protect ourself over time,” said Graham.
Republican members of Congress have previously threatened legislation to impose sanctions on the ICC, but a measure cannot become law without support from President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats, who control the Senate.
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s administration accused the ICC of infringing on US national sovereignty when it authorized an investigation into war crimes committed in Afghanistan. The US targeted court staff, including then-prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, with asset freezes and travel bans.