West African leaders hold talks on coup-hit Niger

AFP , Saturday 24 Feb 2024

Worried West African leaders were set to meet on Saturday for talks on coup-hit Niger and a string of crises that have rocked the region.

The defense chiefs from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries excluding Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea and Niger, gather for their extraordinary meeting in Accra, Ghana. AP


Heads of state at the ECOWAS bloc summit in Nigeria's capital Abuja were expected to discuss politics and security in Niger as well as "recent developments in the region," the organisation said.

Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum was ousted in a military coup last July, prompting ECOWAS to suspend trade and impose tough sanctions.

But the bloc's warning of military intervention has fizzled out with little sign that Bazoum - still imprisoned in the presidential palace in Niamey -- is closer to being restored.

On the eve of the summit lawyers for Bazoum urged ECOWAS to demand his release.

Four of the bloc's 15 member states have been hit by recent coups: Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Guinea.

They have been suspended from the organisation and were not to be represented at the summit.

The first three declared their intention to permanently withdraw from the bloc in January, but ECOWAS has called for "reconciliation" and urged them to return.

Their new military leaders have accused former colonial power France of instrumentalising ECOWAS, and the countries have pushed out French ambassadors and forces while turning politically and militarily towards Russia.

Ahead of the summit, ECOWAS co-founder and former Nigerian military leader General Yakubu Gowon called for the "lifting of all sanctions that have been imposed on Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Niger."

West Africa has also been rocked by President Macky Sall's sudden decision to delay elections in Senegal.

Sall has faced growing calls to set a date for the presidential election after his abrupt delay of the February 25 poll triggered weeks of turmoil. He has stressed his mandate will end as planned on April 2.

Sall was expected to attend Saturday's summit, but it was not clear if the leaders would discuss the crisis in Senegal.

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