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'No to ECOWAS': pro-coup supporters demonstrate in Niamey

Protesters gesture during a demonstration on independence day in Niamey on August 3, 2023.   -  
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Thousands of people rallied Thursday in Niger's capital in support of the coup that toppled the democratically elected government, as security concerns mounted among Western nations.

Demonstrators in the heart of Niamey, some brandishing giant Russian flags, chanted anti-French slogans at the rally called to mark the anniversary of the west African nation's 1960 independence from France.

Issiaka Hamadou, one of the protesters, said that it was "only security that interests us", irrespective of whether it came from "Russia, China, Turkey, if they want to help us".

"We just don't want the French, who have been looting us since 1960 -- they've been there ever since and nothing has changed," he said.

The crowd at the rally around him was shouting "Down with France", "Long live Russia, long live (Vladimir) Putin".

A week after the toppling of elected President Mohamed Bazoum, European citizens have been evacuating from Niger, which has had a key role in French and Western strategies to combat a jihadist insurgency that has plagued the Sahel since 2012.

The clock is ticking down on Sunday's ultimatum from West African regional bloc ECOWAS for the coup leaders to restore Bazoum to power within a week or face the possible "last resort" of military intervention.

Niger is the fourth member of the group to undergo a putsch since 2020.

Senegal said Thursday it would send soldiers to join ECOWAS if it decided to intervene militarily in Niger.

"It is one coup too many," said Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall.

Bazoum has been held by the coup plotters since July 26, prompting US President Joe Biden to call for his immediate release Thursday, urging the "preservation of Niger's hard-earned democracy".

Britain and the United States have announced the pulling back of embassy personnel in Niger as a precaution.

Paris -- which said Thursday it had completed its evacuation flights -- urged the junta led by General Abdourahamane Tiani to "fully guarantee" the safety of embassies in Niamey ahead of Thursday's protests.

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