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Niger crisis deepens as European nations evacuate, coup secures support from other juntas

Nigeriens participate in a march called by supporters of coup leader Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani in Niamey, Niger, Sunday, July 30, 2023
Nigeriens participate in a march called by supporters of coup leader Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani in Niamey, Niger, Sunday, July 30, 2023 Copyright Sam Mednick/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Sam Mednick/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Glynis CrookThomas Bolton
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Niger was the leading supplier of uranium to Europe and a key Western ally in the fight against jihadist groups in the region. Euronews asks Jean-Hervé Jezequel from the International Crisis Group what regime change could mean for the West.

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A French military transport plane carrying Europeans from Niger arrived in Paris Wednesday, in the first such evacuation flight since mutinous soldiers ousted the country’s democratically elected president nearly a week ago and shut its borders.

France, Italy and Spain all announced evacuations from Niger for their citizens and other European nationals, concerned that they risked becoming trapped by the coup that won backing Tuesday from three other West African nations also ruled by mutinous soldiers.

About 600 French nationals want to leave, along with 400 people of other nationalities from Belgians to Danes, French officials said. The first flight carried mostly French nationals, and officials hope to finish the evacuation flights by Wednesday.

With Niger's air space closed, France coordinated the evacuations with the regime that ousted the nation's leader, but without withdrawing its support for democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum, diplomatic officials said.

The coup has raised fears that the West African nation, a key Western ally in the fight against jihadist groups in the region, could pivot towards Russia.

The ousting of democratically-elected president Mohammed Bazoum has been widely condemned by the European Union, the United States, and from within Africa.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the power grab, describing the move as "deplorable".

Jean-Hervé Jezequel, Director for the Sahel Project at the International Crisis Group told Euronews that while Niger is central to Western security efforts in the region, it is too early to say if it might turn to Russia or the Wagner Group.

"We know that Wagner is interested in developing its capacity in West Africa. We anticipate also that within the new military regime - if they were to stay in power - they will look for different allies and might be tempted to establish relations with Russia. 

"It's a possibility that there is a change in alliance and that Russia might develop its capacity for Wagner in the region. But right now it's a sort of red flag that is very convenient to use in order to be in a stronger position when you negotiate," he said. 

There are also concerns about the coup's potential impact on the import of uranium to power Europe's nuclear plants.

As the world's seventh largest producer of the chemical element, it supplies the EU with almost 25 per cent of its reserves. The French state-owned nuclear energy company Orana says nuclear power plants in France source less than 10% of their uranium from the African country.

Jezequel says the impact is not critical.

"France used to be much more dependent on Nigerian uranium in the past than it is today," he explained. 

"There has been a diversification of access to uranium in the world, including Canada, and Khazakstan. So it's a different market than it was 20 or 30 years ago. It's still an important interest, but it's not central, vital to France as it used to be."

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