France will withdraw its ambassador and end all military cooperation with Niger sequel to the coup, President Emmanuel Macron, has said.
“France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France,” Macron said.
The president added that military cooperation was “over” and French troops would leave in “the months to come”.
A military junta seized power in Niger on July 26, ousting President Mohamed Bazoum.
The decision followed months of animosity and protests against the French presence in the country, with regular demonstrations in the capital Niamy.
The move hampers France’s counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel and France’s influence in the region, but Mr Macron said France would “not be held hostage by the putschists”, he said on France’s TF1 and France 2 television stations.
The French president said he still regarded Bazoum, currently held hostage by the coup leaders, as the country’s “sole legitimate authority” and had informed him of his decision. He described the deposed president as a “hostage”.
“He was targeted by this coup d’etat because he was carrying out courageous reforms and because there was a largely ethnic settling of scores and a lot of political cowardice,” he said.
The Niger’s military leaders had told French Ambassador, Sylvain Itte to leave the country after they overthrew Mr Bazoum on July 26.
But the 48-hour ultimatum for him to leave, issued in August, passed with him still in place as the French government refused to comply, or to recognise the military regime as legitimate.
Macron’s statement also came hours after Niger’s coup leaders banned “French aircraft” from flying over the country.
The regional air safety organisation, ASECNA, said that Niger’s airspace was open to all national and international commercial flights except for French aircraft or aircraft chartered by France including those of the airline Air France”.
The air space would remain closed for “all military, operational and other special flights”, unless receiving prior authorisation, the message said.