Blinken speaks to ex-Niger president; expresses 'grave concern'

Niger's current president Mohamed Bazoun continues to be in detention

blinken-bazoum-ap (File) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) poses for a photo with Nigerien president Mohamed Bazoum in Niamey, Niger | AP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on Friday, spoke to former Nigerien president Mahamadou Issoufou and expressed grave concern at the continued detention of the country's current president, Mohamed Bazoum, and his family.

"The Secretary assured the former president of the United States' continued dedication to finding a peaceful resolution that ensures Niger can remain a strong partner in security and development in the region," State department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

West African nations prepare to send troops

Meanwhile, tensions continued to escalate between Niger's new military regime and the West African regional bloc that has ordered the deployment of troops to restore Niger's flailing democracy.

The ECOWAS bloc had directed a standby force to restore constitutional order in Niger after its Sunday deadline to reinstate Bazoum expired.

Hours earlier, two Western officials told The Associated Press that Niger's junta had told a top US diplomat they would kill Bazoum if neighbouring countries attempted any military intervention to restore his rule.

It's unclear when or where the force will be deployed and which countries from the 15-member bloc would contribute to it. Conflict experts say it would likely comprise some 5,000 troops led by Nigeria and could be ready within weeks.

Niger, an impoverished country of some 25 million people, was seen as one of the last hopes for Western nations to partner with in beating back a jihadi insurgency linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group that has ravaged the region. France and the United States have more than 2,500 military personnel in Niger and together with other European partners had poured hundreds of millions of dollars into propping up its military.

The junta responsible for spearheading the coup, led by Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, has exploited anti-French sentiment among the population to shore up its support.

(With PTI inputs)

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