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Hundreds rally in Niger to urge US military departure

Staff WritersReuters
Protesters have marched in Niamey, calling for foreign troops to withdraw from Niger. (EPA PHOTO)
Camera IconProtesters have marched in Niamey, calling for foreign troops to withdraw from Niger. (EPA PHOTO) Credit: EPA

Hundreds have taken to the streets of Niger's capital to demand the departure of US troops after the ruling junta further shifted its strategy by ending a military accord with the United States and welcoming Russian military instructors.

Marching arm in arm through central Niamey, the crowd waved Nigerien flags in a demonstration that recalled anti-French protests that spurred the withdrawal of France's forces from Niger last year after the army seized power in a coup.

One hand-written sign in English read "USA rush out of Niger," in a show of support for the junta and its decision in mid-March to revoke an accord that had allowed about 1000 US military personnel to operate on its territory out of two bases.

"We're here to say no to the American base, we don't want Americans on our soil," protester Maria Saley said on the sidelines of the march.

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Until the coup, Niger had remained a key security partner of France and the United States, which used it as a base as part of international efforts to curb a decade-old Islamist insurgency in west Africa's Sahel region.

But the new authorities in Niger have joined juntas in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso in ending military deals with one-time allies, quitting the regional political and economic bloc ECOWAS and fostering closer ties with Russia.

The arrival on Wednesday of Russian military instructors and equipment was further evidence of the junta's openness to closer co-operation with Russia.

A few Russian flags were visible at the protest but some citizens told Reuters on Friday they did not want the welcome Russian defence assistance to lead to a permanent presence in Niger.

"We must not subsequently see the implementation of Russian foreign military bases," said Abdoulaye Seydou, the co-ordinator of the M62 coalition of civil society groups that led anti-French protests last year.

His concerns were echoed by student Souleymane Ousmane: "This is how the French and the Americans and all the other countries settled in Niger - from military co-operation, they ended up occupying large parts of our country."

It is unclear, however, if or when the US troops will leave.

In March, the top US general appeared to suggest there was at least some support from within Niger's junta for a continued US military presence despite its announced revocation of the accord.

One of the US programmes in Niger is a drone base known as Air Base 201.

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