France will evacuate French and European citizens from Niger, starting on Tuesday, its foreign ministry said, days after a junta seized power in the west African country.

The overthrow last Wednesday of President Mohamed Bazoum – the seventh military takeover in less than three years in West and Central Africa – has sent shockwaves across the region, pitting Niger’s former Western allies against the likes of Russia and other junta leaders in the region.

Former colonial power France has had troops in the region for a decade helping to fight an Islamist insurgency, but some locals say they want the former colonial ruler to stop intervening in their affairs.

On Sunday, supporters of the junta burned French flags and attacked the French embassy in Niger’s capital, Niamey, prompting police to fire volleys of tear gas in response.

“Considering the situation in Niamey, the violence against our embassy the day before yesterday and the fact that the air space is shut and our citizens cannot leave by their own means, France is preparing the evacuation of its citizens and (other) European citizens who want to leave the country,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The evacuation will start today,” it said.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told BFM TV late on Monday that the protest in front of the embassy and the ensuing accusations that France shot at the crowd – which it denies – “have all the usual ingredients of destabilisation, the Russian-African way”.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, last week welcomed the coup in Niger, and said his forces were available to restore order.

The Kremlin said on Monday that the situation in Niger was “cause for serious concern” and called for a swift return to constitutional order.

According to the French foreign ministry website, there were just under 1,200 French nationals in Niger in 2022.

The coup has raised fears for the security of the Sahel region. Niger is the world’s seventh-biggest producer of uranium, the radioactive metal widely used for nuclear energy and treating cancer.

Regional bloc ECOWAS has imposed sanctions, including a halt in all financial transactions and a national assets freeze, and said it could authorise force to reinstate Bazoum, who is still locked in his palace.

But the juntas of neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea all voiced their support for the coup’s leaders on Monday.


FACTBOX-What sanctions have been imposed on Niger since coup?

WEST AFRICA REGIONAL BLOC

The Economic Community of West African States and the West African Monetary and Economic Union have imposed some of the most stringent sanctions on Niger so far since the coup.

With immediate effect, the bloc has suspended all commercial transactions with Niger, frozen Niger’s state assets in the regional central bank, frozen assets of the state and state enterprises in commercial banks, and suspended all financial assistance with regional development banks.

The financial sanctions could lead to a default on Niger’s debt repayments.

On Monday, a planned 30 billion CFA francs ($51 million) bond issuance by Niger in the West African regional debt market was cancelled by the regional central bank following the imposition of sanctions. Niger had planned to raise 490 billion CFA francs ($834 million) from the regional debt market in 2023.

EUROPEAN UNION

The European Union, one of Niger’s biggest contributors, has suspended its financial support and cooperation on security with Niger with immediate effect.

The EU allocated 503 million euros ($554 million) from its budget to improve governance, education and sustainable growth in Niger over 2021-2024, according to its website.

FRANCE

France, another major partner of its former colony, suspended development aid and budget support with immediate effect, demanding a prompt return to constitutional order. French development aid for Niger was at around 120 million euros ($130 million) in 2022, and expected to be slightly higher this year.

France also has around 1,500 troops in Niger. It relied on Niger after it withdrew its counter insurgency troops from neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

UNITED STATES

The United States, a major donor of humanitarian and security aid, has warned that the military takeover in Niger could lead to the suspension of all cooperation.

So far in fiscal 2023, it has provided nearly $138 million in humanitarian assistance. There are about 1,100 U.S. troops in Niger, where the U.S. military operates from two bases.