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Niger's ousted president running low on food under house arrest 2 weeks after coup

Niger's ousted president running low on food under house arrest 2 weeks after coup
Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum holds a press conference with Ivorian President   -  
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SIA KAMBOU/AFP or licensors


Niger's deposed president is running out of food and experiencing other increasingly dire conditions two weeks after he was ousted in a military coup and put under house arrest, an advisor told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

President Mohamed Bazoum, the West African nation's democratically elected leader, has been held at the presidential palace in Niamey with his wife and son since mutinous soldiers moved against him on July 26.

The family is living without electricity and only has rice and canned goods left to eat, the advisor said. Bazoum remains in good health for now and will never resign, according to the advisor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive situation with the media.

Bazoum's political party issued a statement confirming the president's living conditions and said the family also was without running water.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Bazoum on Tuesday about recent diplomatic efforts, a spokesman said, and Blinken "emphasized that the safety and security of President Bazoum and his family are paramount."

This week, Niger's new military junta took steps to entrench itself in power and rejected international efforts to mediate.

New Prime Minister announced

On Monday, the junta named a new prime minister, civilian economist Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine. Zeine is a former economy and finance minister who left office after a previous coup in 2010 toppled the government at the time. He later worked at the African Development Bank.

"The establishment of a government is significant and signals, at least to the population, that they have a plan in place, with support from across the government," Aneliese Bernard, a former U.S. State Department official who specialized in African affairs and is now director of Strategic Stabilization Advisors, a risk advisory group.

Junta refuse mediation teams

The junta also refused to admit meditation teams from the United Nations, the African Union, and West African regional bloc ECOWAS, citing "evident reasons of security in this atmosphere of menace," according to a letter seen by The Associated Press.

ECOWAS had threatened to use military force if the junta didn't reinstate Bazoum by Sunday, a deadline that the junta ignored and which passed without action from ECOWAS. The bloc is expected to meet again Thursday to discuss the situation.

It's been exactly two weeks since soldiers first detained Bazoum and seized power, claiming they could do a better job at protecting the nation from jihadi violence. Groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have ravaged the Sahel region, a vast expanse south of the Sahara Desert that includes part of Niger.

Most analysts and diplomats said the stated justification for the coup did not hold weight and the takeover resulted from a power struggle between the president and the head of his presidential guard, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, who now says he runs the country.

The coup comes as a blow to many countries in the West, which saw Niger as one of the last democratic partners in the region they could work with to beat back the extremist threat. It's also an important supplier of uranium.

Impact of coup

Niger's partners have threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance if it does not return to constitutional rule.

While the crisis drags on, Niger's 25 million people are bearing the brunt. It's one of the poorest countries in the world, and many Nigeriens live hand to mouth and say they're too focused on finding food for their families to pay much attention to the escalating crisis.

Harsh economic and travel sanctions imposed by ECOWAS since the coup have caused food prices to rise by up to 5%, say traders. Erkmann Tchibozo, a shop owner from neighboring Benin who works in Niger's capital, Niamey, said it's been hard to get anything into the country to stock his shop near the airport.

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