Gunfire was heard for about half an hour on Wednesday near Niger’s presidential palace in Niamey two days before the West African country’s historic handover, prompting fears of an attempted coup.
Quoting a security source, Reuters said that the attempted coup was launched by a unit from a nearby air base in the capital city of Niamey.
The putsch was, however, repelled by presidential guards who engaged in shelling and gunfire with the assailants, security sources told both AFP and Reuters.
Several people in connection with the attack have been detained, AFP reported security sources as saying.
“There were some arrests among a few members of the army who are behind this attempted coup,” the source said. “The Presidential Guard retaliated, preventing this group of soldiers from approaching the presidential palace.”
Mohammed Bello, who lives about 2 km from the presidential palace, also told PREMIUM TIMES that normalcy has been restored after the early morning scare.
“Everything is fine here in Niger,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon.
Outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou had stepped down after two five-year terms.
His to-be successor, Mohamed Bazoum, a former interior minister from the governing party, is to be sworn in Friday, one that will mark the country’s first transition of power from one democratically elected leader to another.
Former U.S. Sahel envoy J Peter Pham tweeted early Wednesday that both men were safe.
Reports tonight of gunfire and rumors of mutiny in #Niamey, just a week after terrorists killed 100+ & just days before 🇳🇪#Niger is to have its first-ever handover from one elected president to another. Alhamdulillah, @IssoufouMhm & @mohamedbazoum are safe & the incident is over.
— Dr. J. Peter Pham 🇺🇲 (@DrJPPham) March 31, 2021
Attacks by armed groups have increased in the country which borders Nigeria to the north following Mr Bazoum’s victory in a February presidential election runoff where he saw off competition from former President Mahamane Ousmane.
Mr Ousmane, who was elected president 1993 and was overthrown in a military coup three years later, has rejected the poll’s result, alleging fraud.
He had called for “peaceful marches” across the country by Wednesday, but authorities banned the protests a day earlier.
Niger’s top court confirmed Mr Bazoum’s victory in the presidential runoff last week.
The U.S. said it will be closing its embassy in Niamey on Wednesday following the gunfire in the city overnight.
“The security situation throughout Niger remains fluid in the post-election period with the possibility of unrest and/or intercommunal clashes around the country,” the U.S. embassy said in a statement.
Niger, the world’s poorest nation, according to the UN’s development rankings for 189 countries, has a 25-000 member armed forces, that is poorly equipped and trained and is coup prone.
The country has in recent months seen a spate of deadly attacks by belligerent groups linked to al Qaeda and ISIS near its borders with Mali and Burkina Faso.
An attack on March 21 reportedly killed at least 137 people, according to the UN. At least 58 people including six children were killed in another attack on a market, Al Jazeera reported.
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