Hundreds Protest in Niger Demanding Departure of US Troops

Hundreds Protest in Niger Demanding Departure of US Troops

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Niger’s capital to demand the departure of United States troops, after the military government further shifted its strategy by ending a military accord with the US and welcoming Russian military instructors.

Marching arm in arm through central Niamey on Saturday, the crowd waved Nigerien flags in a demonstration that recalled anti-French protests that spurred the withdrawal of France’s forces from Niger last year after the army seized power in a coup, Al Jazeera reported.

One hand-written sign in English read “USA rush out of Niger”, in a show of support for the military government and its decision in mid-March to revoke an accord that had allowed around 1,000 US military personnel to operate on its territory out of two bases.

“We’re here to say no to the American base, we don’t want Americans on our soil,” protester Maria Saley told the Reuters news agency on the sidelines of the march.

The crowd was also heard chanting “Down with American imperialism” and “The people’s liberation is on the march.”

Until the coup, Niger had remained a key security partner of France and the US, which used it as a base as part of international efforts to curb a decade-old rebellion in West Africa’s Sahel region.

In March the country suspended its military agreement with the US. The US military had some 650 personnel working in Niger in December, according to a White House report to Congress. The US military operates a major airbase in the Niger city of Agadez, some 920km (572 miles) from Niamey, using it for manned and unmanned surveillance flights and other operations.

A drone base known as Air Base 201 near Agadez was also built at a cost of more than $100m. 

Meanwhile, France also agreed to withdraw its troops last September in the wake of the July coup that overthrew democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum.

The new authorities in Niger joined military-run governments in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso in ending military deals with one-time Western allies, quitting the regional political and economic bloc ECOWAS and also fostering closer ties with Russia.

The arrival on Wednesday of Russian military instructors and equipment was further evidence of the military government’s openness to closer cooperation with Moscow, which is seeking to boost its influence in Africa.

A few Russian flags were visible at the protest, but some citizens told Reuters on Friday they did not want the welcome Russian defense assistance to lead to a permanent presence in Niger.

“We must not subsequently see the implementation of Russian foreign military bases,” said Abdoulaye Seydou, the coordinator of the M62 coalition of civil society groups that led anti-French protests last year.

His concerns were echoed by student Souleymane Ousmane: “This is how the French and the Americans and all the other countries settled in Niger – from military cooperation, they ended up occupying large parts of our country,” he said.

It is still unclear, however, if or when the US troops will leave.

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