French President Emmanuel Macron says his country will withdraw its ambassador and troops from Niger in the wake of the July coup that overthrew democratically-elected President Mohamed Bazoum.
Macron, in an interview on Sunday, noted that the military cooperation with Niger was over and that 1,500 French troops stationed in the country would withdraw in “the months and weeks to come” with a full pullout “by the end of the year”.
“France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France,” Macron said in a televised interview.
France’s exit comes after weeks of pressure from the military and popular demonstrations. Thousands of people have protested in recent weeks in the capital Niamey, including outside a military base housing French soldiers.
Niger’s military junta, who had been demanding France’s exit after Macron refused to recognise the July 26 coup, welcomed the French president’s announcement.
“This Sunday, we celebrate a new step towards the sovereignty of Niger,” they said in a statement read out on national television.
“This is a historic moment, which speaks to the determination and will of the Nigerien people,” they added.
The development comes as France’s troops have also been asked to leave its former colonies Mali and Burkina Faso.
“This is definitely a small victory for the government in transition, and perhaps an embarrassment for the French who have seen Mali, Burkina Faso and now a third country in the Sahel where it is being asked by the government in place to leave the country,” said Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Senegal’s capital Dakar.
“He [the French ambassador] has essentially been held hostage inside the embassy. The Niger security forces wouldn’t let anyone in or out. He has been surviving on the food rations inside the embassy.”
With tensions mounting, Macron said he told the ousted Bazoum on Sunday that “France has decided to bring back its ambassador, and in the coming hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France.”
Macron reaffirmed France’s position that Bazoum was being held “hostage” and remained the “sole legitimate authority” in the country.
“He was targeted by this coup d’etat because he was carrying out courageous reforms and because there was a largely ethnic settling of scores and a lot of political cowardice,” he said