The junta says Niger’s ousted president tried to escape. His lawyer says: No way. | ET REALITY


The military junta in the West African country of Niger said it had thwarted an attempt by ousted president Mohamed Bazoum to escape on Thursday from the presidential residence, where he has been detained since he was overthrown in a coup nearly three years ago. months. .

His lawyers denied the claim, saying they had lost contact with him and once again calling for his immediate release.

Since mutinous soldiers in Niger seized power in a coup in late July, Bazoum had been stranded with his wife and son at the presidential residence in Niger’s capital, Niamey. Although Mr. Bazoum was able to communicate with his attorneys, they said that since Wednesday night they had not received any news of his whereabouts or his condition.

“It’s a total blackout,” Mohamed Seydou Diagne, one of Bazoum’s lawyers, said in a telephone interview Friday. “We have reasons to worry, even more so when we know that it is in the hands of the military.”

A spokesman for Nigerien military leaders did not respond to a request for comment.

Bazoum, who assumed the presidency in 2021, was considered a close ally of France and the United States, countries that maintained military bases there. Niger, a poor, landlocked country of 25 million people, has been fighting Islamist insurgents affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Niger’s military junta said in a statement that Bazoum had tried to escape at 3 a.m. Thursday with his family, two security staff and two cooks. An unmarked vehicle waiting nearby was supposed to take them to the outskirts of Niamey, the junta said, before “two helicopters belonging to a foreign power” took them to neighboring Nigeria.

The junta said it had arrested “the main actors and some of their accomplices” but did not say whether the president was among them.

But Bazoum’s lawyer, Diagne, called the idea of ​​escape preposterous. “How can you escape from a military compound?” she said, referring to the military compound where the presidential residence is located.

In early August, electricity and water were cut off at the residence. A doctor who brought food to the family every other day was denied access to the residence Friday morning, attorneys said.

After the late July coup, West African countries threatened to mount a military operation to free Bazoum and restore constitutional order in Niger.

But prospects for military action have largely faded and Niger’s junta has instead tightened its control over the country. It has severed ties with France, which began withdrawing the 1,500 troops it had in the country last week. It has formed a new security alliance with neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali, two other countries led by the junta. And it has silenced the voices of the opposition and journalists.

Last week, the Biden administration announced it would suspend nearly $200 million in aid and an additional $442 million in trade and agricultural assistance to Niger after calling the July military takeover a coup.

An aide to Bazoum, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss his situation, said that until Thursday the ousted president had been able to communicate with close allies and his lawyers through a phone that his guards had not confiscated.

This time, the friend said, Mr. Bazoum seemed to have no means of communication with the outside world.

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