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Niger closes airspace amid invasion threat

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The African country’s junta has ignored the ultimatum by their Western-backed neighbors

Niger’s coup-imposed government has promised “a vigorous and instantaneous response” to any violation of the country airspace as it braces for a potential military intervention after the deadline, set by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum to power, expired on Sunday.

“Faced with the threat of intervention which is becoming clearer from neighboring countries, Niger’s airspace is closed from this day on Sunday… until further notice,” the military government announced on Sunday night.

The statement warned that “any attempt to violate the airspace” will result in a “vigorous and instantaneous response,” as cited by AFP.

The National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland, which assumed power in a military coup last month, claimed that hostile regional forces have already conducted “pre-deployment in preparation for the intervention” in two unnamed countries of Central Africa.

“Any state involved will be considered co-belligerent,” it added.

ECOWAS imposed harsh sanctions and issued a one-week ultimatum to the military leaders last week, threatening to send troops into Niger unless General Abdourahamane Tchiani and his cabinet of generals step down and reinstate President Bazoum.

The deadline, however, passed unheeded. Although the militaries of several ECOWAS members agreed on a plan for potential military intervention in a meeting on Friday, the bloc needs “more time” to prepare for the invasion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“For the moment, we need to build up the strength of our units before taking part in such a military action,” a senior commander from one of the Ecowas countries told the paper.

The coup leaders are backed by the governments of Mali and Burkina Faso, both of which seized power in a recent wave of anti-French unrest. Both have promised to treat any ECOWAS invasion as a declaration of war against them. The junta also allegedly asked Russia’s Wagner private military company for assistance, but neither the Kremlin nor the Wagner Group have commented on the claims.

In the meantime, Bazoum has called for a Western military intervention, claiming that unless the US and ECOWAS help him, Wagner will have an “open invitation” into the region and all of central Sahel “could fall to Russian influence.”

The US and EU have imposed sanctions on Niger following the coup, and France has declared that it backs ECOWAS’ efforts to bring Bazoum – an ally of Paris – back into power. However, the French government has not explicitly stated whether it supports direct military intervention.

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