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“The shooting was intense, there were heavy weapons and small arms,” said one of them. The shots rang out “on Boulevard Mohammed-VI, near the embassies, the presidency and the ministry of foreign affairs,” a diplomatic source said on the morning of 31 March.
The security forces quickly intervened to deal with an “attempted coup”, but “the situation is under control,” a security source told Agence France-Presse that morning. “A few members of the army who were behind the coup attempt have been arrested.”
“This group of soldiers could not approach the palace when the presidential guard returned fire,” said the same security source. A source within the security services, whom we contacted, confirmed that several soldiers were arrested.
“A coup attempt was foiled,” said government spokesman Zakaria Abdourahaman a few hours later, in a statement issued on 31 March in the early afternoon. “An investigation has been opened. The relevant perpetrators and their accomplices will be arrested in order to bring them to justice,” said the government spokesman, who added that the investigation also targets “internal and external sponsors”.
Without specifying the number, the government also confirms that “several people” have been arrested and “condemns this cowardly and retrograde act that seeks to jeopardise democracy and the rule of law to which our country is resolutely committed.”
Political and security tensions
This coup attempt took place during a tense period for the country, just before president-elect Mohamed Bazoum’s swearing-in ceremony on 2 April in Niamey.
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His rival, former president Mahamane Ousmane, is still contesting the election results validated by the constitutional court and has claimed victory. On 22 March, he called on the opposition not to sit in the national assembly and on the army to disregard orders from an “illegal and illegitimate” authority.
A member of the team in charge of organising Bazoum’s swearing-in ceremony assured that these events will have “no impact” on it. “We are going ahead as if nothing has happened. This incident was handled at 4am this morning. There have been no additional security arrangements planned for the swearing-in ceremony,” he said.
In addition to these political tensions, the country is coming out of a recently announced national mourning period, declared after the 21 March attacks in Intezayane, Bakorat and Woursanat, in the Tillia Department of Tahoua Region. At least 137 civilians were killed in these massacres attributed to the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. A week earlier, 66 civilians lost their lives in an attack in the Tillabéri Region, further south, in the “three-borders zone” between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
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