NIAMEY, 31 March 2021 – The presidential palace in Niger’s capital, Niamey, has been attacked, two days before the nation’s first democratic handover of power.
A coup attempted has been thwarted by the presidential guard and many soldiers have been arrested, news accounts from journalists watching the events unfold in Niamey reported Wednesday.
“Several people have been arrested and others linked to the events are being actively sought,” read the statement by government spokesperson Abdourahmane Zakaria.
The situation remains confused and the city is on high alert, the AFP reported.
Nigeriens are less than 48 hours ahead of the inauguration of the country’s newly-elected president, Mohamed Bazoum.
Residents of the capital heard heavy gunfire around the presidential palace early Wednesday before dying down.
Niamey residents heard the gunfire from around 03:00 local time and it is believed to have lasted about 15 minutes before stopped.
“There were some arrests among a few members of the army who are behind this attempted coup. The presidential Guard retaliated, preventing this group of soldiers from approaching the presidential palace,” the French News Agency (AFP) reported Wednesday, citing unnamed security sources.
Tension has been high in the country ever since Bazoum’s election victory was confirmed.
Street protests by opposition supporters degenerated into riots, leading to the shooting dead of at least seven people.
Former president Mahamane Ousmane, who lost the presidential run-off – 44.25 percent of the votes cast to 55.75 percent garnered by Bazoum – has continued to reject the results, including after the Constitutional Court confirmed them.
Niger is the world’s poorest nation, according to the United Nations ranking of the world’s 189 countries.
The country did not outlaw slavery until 2003.
Niger has been caught in the spillover of violence from jihadist militants in neighboring Mali and Nigeria.
The country has been hit by unprecedented massacres in villages near its porous border with Mali, with at least 137 civilians killed in the latest attacks.
The West African nation has been prone to coups since it gained independence from France.
The country’s outgoing president, Ousmane Issoufou, 71, was only the first democratically elected president of the West African nation when he won his first term in 1993.