By Dalal Mawad, Sarah Dean and Sana Noor Haq, CNN
(CNN) — Niger’s military has backed coup leaders who have claim to have seized power in the West African country, prompting warnings from the international community.
The Nigerien army command said Thursday that it supported the apparent takeover of President Mohamed Bazoum’s government in hopes of preventing bloodshed and maintaining “the well-being of our populations.”
Bazoum was reportedly seized by members of the presidential guard on Wednesday. Men in military fatigues later issued a video statement asserting control of the country.
The military’s statement on Thursday also warned against foreign military intervention, which it said “risks having disastrous and uncontrolled consequences.”
Niger lies at the heart of Africa’s Sahel region, which has seen numerous power grabs in recent years including in Mali and Burkina Faso.
A key ally of the United States, France and other Western governments, Niger had been one of the few remaining democracies in a region fraught with Islamist insurgencies.
Bazoum’s whereabouts unknown
The president’s whereabouts remain unknown, though several global leaders said they had spoken with him over the past 24 hours.
Bazoum is “feeling well,” Chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said after speaking with him, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported. Mahamat added that Nigerian mediators are in Niger for talks with rebels.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres also said he had spoken with Bazoum “to convey to him all our solidarity.”
“Today I would like to address directly those holding him: free President Bazoum immediately and without conditions,” Guterres told press on Thursday.
When Bazoum took presidential office in 2021, it was the country’s first democratic transfer of power following years of military coups. Niger first gained independence from France in 1960.
“The hard-won achievements will be safeguarded. All Nigeriens who love democracy and freedom will see to it,” Niger’s presidential office tweeted on Thursday, after the coup was announced in a video communique late Wednesday night.
A man identified as Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane appeared in the video, flanked by several apparent soldiers, and announced: “We have decided to put an end to the regime that you know.” He cited a deteriorating security situation in the country and “poor economic and social governance.”
Abdramane later said all activities of political parties had been suspended “until the new order.”
CNN has so far been unable to reach the country’s Ministry of Defense and Interior Ministry for comment.
A member of the National Guard guarding the building for both ministries told CNN on Wednesday that there were no officials inside.
1,000 US troops
Niger’s political upheaval saw hundreds of pro-Bazoum demonstrators filling the streets of the capital Niamey on Wednesday, and prompted stark warnings from world leaders and humanitarian organizations.
White House officials said they “strongly condemn any effort to detain or subvert the functioning of Niger’s democratically elected government.” French, German and UK foreign ministries have also criticized the coup.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday that the partnership between Washington and the West African country is contingent on its “continued commitment to democratic standards.”
Approximately 1,000 US troops are currently stationed in Niger, two US officials told CNN. The US has deployed forces there since 2013 to support Nigerien counter-terrorism efforts.
Washington also conducts drone operations at a base it completed in 2019, outside the city of Agadez, known as Air Base 201. Agadez is over 500 miles from the Nigerien capital of Niamey.
UN humanitarian operations have been put on hold in the country, the agency’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Thursday.
“Violence by armed groups – both in the country and its neighbors – has increased our concerns over civilian protection and has aggravated food insecurity,” the agency said in a statement.
In Niger, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 1.9 million people in 2017 to 4.3 million people in 2023, according OCHA.
More than 370,000 people are displaced within the country, which also hosts more than 250,000 refugees mainly from Nigeria, Mali and Burkina Faso.
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CNN’s Omar Hamar Saley in Niamey contributed reporting. CNN’s Larry Madowo, Caitlin Hu, Niamh Kennedy, Eve Brennan, Bethlehem Feleke, Alex Stambaugh, Betsy Klein, Richard Roth, Natasha Bertrand, Anne Claire Stapleton and Josh Pennington also contributed reporting.