France, Italy and Spain announced evacuations from Niger for their citizens and other European nationals Tuesday, concerned that they risked becoming trapped by a military coup that won backing from three other West African nations also ruled by mutinous soldiers.
Two unarmed French military transport planes, which left from southern France, were on the ground at Niamey’s airport by late afternoon Tuesday, and a third was expected, according to the French Joint Defense staff.
There was no immediate information on the number of evacuees they would transport.
France's Foreign Ministry cited recent violence that targeted its embassy in Niamey, the capital, as one of the reasons for its decision to offer evacuation flights to several hundred of its citizens and other Europeans.
Spain's Defense Ministry announced preparations to evacuate more than 70 nationals and Italy also said it was arranging a flight.
Germany's foreign office said its citizens in Niger should check whether their stay there is necessary and if not they should “take the next available opportunity to leave.”
The evacuations come during a deepening crisis sparked by the coup last week against Niger’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum.
His apparent overthrow is a blow for Western nations that were working with Niger against West African extremists.
The West African regional body known as ECOWAS announced travel and economic sanctions against Niger on Sunday and said it could use force if the coup leaders don’t reinstate Bazoum within one week.
ECOWAS suspended all commercial and financial transactions between its member states and Niger, as well as freezing Nigerien assets held in regional central banks.
Niger relies heavily on foreign aid, and sanctions could further impoverish its more than 25 million people.
Both the United States and France have sent troops and hundreds of millions of dollars of military and humanitarian aid in recent years to Niger, which was a French colony until 1960.
The U.S. will consider cutting aid if the coup is successful, the State Department said Monday. Aid is “very much in the balance depending on the outcome of the actions in the country,” said department spokesman Matt Miller. “U.S. assistance hinges on continued democratic governance in Niger.”