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Attempted coup in Niger: Gunfire erupts ahead of Friday’s inauguration of new President

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Gunfire was heard near Niger’s presidency early Wednesday, two days ahead of the swearing-in of president-elect Mohamed Bazoum. A few soldiers were arrested, according to a security source, as calm returned to the capital, Niamey.

“Heavy gunfire was heard for half-an-hour in the presidential palace area. The presidential guard repelled the attack and the situation seems to be back under control,” said Payen.

“With two days to go before the inauguration of the new president, we know that the main challenge facing him is security, but we were thinking more of terrorist attacks, not this kind of action,” added Payen.

There have been growing attacks in Niger by Islamist militants, and political tensions in the country following Bazoum’s victory in a February presidential election runoff. Former president Mahamane Ousmane, who lost in the runoff, has rejected the results and said there was fraud.

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“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,” a security source told AFP.

Reporting from Niamey later Wednesday, Payen said calm had returned to the capital. “The situation in central Niamey looks very calm now…it looks like the situation is coming back to normal and the attempted putsch has been set back,” said Payen.

‘It lasted 15 minutes’

Witnesses in Niamey said the heavy gunfire early Wednesday lasted between 15 to 20 minutes.

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“It was around 3am, we heard shots from heavy and light weapons and it lasted 15 minutes before stopping, followed by shots from light weapons,” one resident of Niamey’s Plateau district, which includes the president’s official residence and offices, told AFP.

“The gunfire lasted about 20 minutes,” another resident said.

A third resident spoke of “intense shooting, with heavy and light weapons”.

In short video clips posted on social networks, only several seconds in length, sporadic bursts of gunfire could be heard in the pitch dark.

No official source was immediately available to comment.

Tensions were high in the lead-up to Friday’s presidential inauguration.

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Bazoum, the former interior minister and right-hand man of outgoing president Mahamadou Issoufou, Bazoum’s victory in the second round of the election on February 2 was confirmed by the constitutional court this month.

His main rival, Ousmane, had called for “peaceful marches” across the country, but a planned opposition protest Wednesday in Niamey was banned a day earlier by authorities.

Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, has suffered numerous coups in its history, most recently a February 2010 putsch that toppled then-president Mamadou Tandja.

The Sahel country has also recently been struck by repeated jihadist attacks as Islamist movements have spilled over from neighbouring Mali and Nigeria.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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