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The president of Niger has been removed in a coup

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The president of the West African nation of Niger has been removed in a coup. The president had been held hostage by his own presidential guard at his residence since early Wednesday morning. Then, after midnight local time, soldiers appeared on national TV there to announce they have carried out a coup.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

SUMMERS: Our State Department correspondent Michele Kelemen joins us now. Hi there.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: So Michele, we should just start by saying that this is a rapidly developing story and that events on the ground seem to be moving quite quickly. But what details do we have at this point?

KELEMEN: Yeah. So a group of soldiers went on television, as you heard, and they announced that all institutions have been suspended in Niger. They've closed the borders. They said the constitution has been dissolved, and they imposed a curfew. They said they took the action because of the bad economy and what they called the degradation of the security situation. And they're warning other countries not to interfere. Now, as you mentioned, Juana, this started early in the day. Members of the presidential guard effectively took President Mohamed Bazoum hostage. We don't know what his status is at the moment, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to him during the day, and here's what he had to say.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: I spoke with President Bazoum earlier this morning and made clear that the United States resolutely supports him as the democratically elected president of Niger. We call for his immediate release.

KELEMEN: Blinken was speaking there in New Zealand. He's on a trip there right now, and he actually visited Niger earlier this year. That's just a sign of how important that country is for the U.S.

SUMMERS: Right. So at this point, how are others reacting to this news?

KELEMEN: Well, you're hearing lots of condemnation around the world - the U.N. secretary general, African regional groups, many others. So far, it's interesting - the U.S. has stopped short of calling this a coup. Take a listen to what Secretary Blinken had to say about that.

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BLINKEN: Whether this constitutes a coup technically or not, I can't say. That's for the lawyers to say. But what it clearly constitutes is an effort to seize power by force and to disrupt the Constitution.

KELEMEN: And Juana, there's a reason that he may be hesitant to call this a coup. The U.S. would have to cut funding to Niger, and this is a country that's really been a major player in counterterrorism operations in Africa. The U.S. has drone bases there, as well as hundreds of troops. In fact, four Americans were killed in Niger back in 2017. So the U.S. clearly has a lot of interest in what's happening.

SUMMERS: Yeah. So Michele, I know it can be challenging to predict, but what happens next?

KELEMEN: Well, I mean, the U.S. wants to see African countries in the lead in resolving crises like this, so I think you're going to just see a lot of phone calls, urgent diplomacy. There's an African delegation in Niger's capital right now trying to broker some kind of agreement. The State Department also has another job. It's been urging Americans to limit their movements and to avoid the area around the presidential palace where all this drama is taking place. The U.S. says it's accounted for all its embassy personnel and family members, and the U.N. has too.

SUMMERS: Niger seems to be in this very unstable part of the world. What impact will this have on neighboring countries?

KELEMEN: Yeah, that's a big concern. I mean, Niger is a landlocked country with neighbors facing their own problems. You have Burkina Faso, which is unstable. Mali has had military coups, and you also have the Russian mercenary group, Wagner, with a significant presence there. You have Libya just to the north, Chad to the east.

SUMMERS: Yeah.

KELEMEN: And Chad is already worried about a conflict in its neighbor, Sudan. So it doesn't want it to spill over. So, you know, you're going to see a lot of regional groups - ECOWAS, the African Union - making a big push really to try to restore democratic governance in Niger and at least have one less unstable region.

SUMMERS: Right. NPR's Michele Kelemen, thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.