Thousands rally in Niger to push for withdrawal of US troops

Published April 14, 2024
NIGERIENS gather in a street in Niamey to protest against US military presence.—Reuters
NIGERIENS gather in a street in Niamey to protest against US military presence.—Reuters

NIAMEY: Thousands took to the streets of Niger’s capital on Saturday 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.

Niger also signed a memorandum of understanding with Chinese state-owned oil giant China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) worth $400 million linked to the sale of crude oil from its Agadem oilfield, Niger state television RTN reported late on Friday.“China is a great friend to Niger; we can never say it enough,” Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine said at the signing ceremony, which was broadcast by RTN.

“This signature demonstrates the friendship ... and fruitful cooperation between the two states,” Chinese ambassador Jiang Feng said.

An export pipeline project backed by CNPC subsidiary PetroChina was officially launched last November, linking the Agadem oilfield to the port of Cotonou in neighbouring Benin.Previously, the West African country had a small oil refinery with capacity of around 20,000 bpd that mostly supplies Niger’s domestic fuel market.

Niamey welcomes Russian military instructors, signs crude oil MOU with Beijing

Anti-US protest

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 around 1,000 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,” said protester Maria Saley on the sidelines of the march.

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 Western allies, quitting the regional political and economic bloc ECOWAS and fostering closer ties with Russia.

Russian instructors arrive

The arrival on Wednesday of Russian military instructors and equipment was further evidence of the junta’s openness to closer cooperation with Moscow, which is seeking to boost its influence in Africa.

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

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2024

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