Niger airspace closed as coup supporters defy critical deadline

Coup supporters rally in Niamey
Coup supporters rally in Niamey Copyright Sam Mednick/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Philip Andrew Churm with AP
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Supporters of Niger's military junta have gathered in the capital to show defiance of an ultimatum to restore democracy.


Thousands of people, showing support for coup leaders in Niger, gathered in Niamey in defiance of an ultimatum by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to restore the elected president. 

Coup leaders appeared at a stadium rally where a chicken, decorated in the colours of former coloniser France, was beheaded.

A deadline by the regional bloc passed at midnight on Sunday night and with the threat of military action if the demands were not met, Niger closed its national airspace. But it is not immediately clear what ECOWAS will do next. 

Coup supporters at the rally expressed defiance against both the ECOWAS threat and France's long presence in the region. Some waved Russian flags.

Niger's presidential guard ousted and held democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum in the coup on 26 July.

ECOWAS immediately imposed sanctions on Niger and gave Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, the coup leader, one week to restore Bazoum to power or face the potential use of force.

Tchiani has vowed to respond "immediately" to any foreign intervention. 

The coup is a major blow to the United States and allies who saw Niger as the last major counterterrorism partner in the Sahel.

Amid threats by ECOWAS, Tchiani has reached out to the Russian Wagner mercenary group for support.

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