Niger's newly installed junta has threatened to counter any “aggression or attempted aggression”, as the clock ticks down on a deadline given by its neighbours to reverse last week's coup.
It also made diplomatic swipes against international condemnation of the putsch, scrapping military pacts with France and pulling its ambassadors from Paris and Washington as well as from Togo and Nigeria.
On Sunday, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) gave the junta a week to reinstate democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum, who was toppled by his guard on July 26, or risk a possible military intervention.
The defence chiefs were set to wrap up discussions about possible intervention in Niger on Friday, as mediators from the regional bloc push coup leaders in Niamey to restore constitutional order before an approaching deadline, Reuters reported.
The military junta in Niger is locked in a stand-off with Ecowas, which has taken its hardest stance yet on the ousting of Mr Bazoum – the seventh coup in West and Central Africa since 2020. Niger's junta warned it would meet force with force.
“Any aggression or attempted aggression against the state of Niger will see an immediate and unannounced response from the Niger Defence and Security Forces on one of [the bloc's] members,” one of the putschists said in a statement read on national television late Thursday.
This came with “the exception of suspended friendly countries”, an allusion to Burkina Faso and Mali, neighbouring countries that have also fallen to military coups in recent years.
Those countries' juntas have warned any military intervention in Niger would be tantamount to a “declaration of war” against them.
Nigeria, West Africa's pre-eminent military and economic power, is currently chairing Ecowas and has vowed to take a firm line against coups.
The bloc has already imposed trade and financial sanctions on Niger.
Senegal said it would send soldiers to join Ecowas if it decided to intervene militarily.
“It is one coup too many,” Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall said.
One Ecowas delegation headed by former Nigeria leader Abdulsalami Abubakar arrived in Niamey on Thursday, according to an airport source, and was due to meet the junta leaders later.
Another was due to hold talks with leaders in Algeria and Libya.
Mr Bazoum, who has been held by the coup plotters with his family since his ousting, said Thursday that if the putsch proved successful, “it will have devastating consequences for our country, our region and the entire world”.
In a column in The Washington Post, his first lengthy statement since his detention began, he called on “the US government and the entire international community to help us restore our constitutional order”.
“I write this as a hostage,” he said.
“Niger is under attack from a military junta … and I am just one of hundreds of citizens who have been arbitrarily and illegally imprisoned.
“This coup must end, and the junta must free everyone they have unlawfully arrested,” he wrote.
He said his country had been a bulwark of hope in a region increasingly buffeted by extremism and ruled by military juntas.
“In Africa's troubled Sahel region, Niger stands as the last bastion of respect for human rights amid the authoritarian movements that have overtaken some of our neighbours,” he wrote.
He warned that Niger's neighbours have increasingly invited in “criminal Russian mercenaries such as the Wagner Group at the expense of their people's rights and dignity”.
“The entire Sahel region,” he said, “could fall to Russian influence via the Wagner Group, whose brutal terrorism has been on full display in Ukraine.”
He added that terrorist movements such a Boko Haram “will surely take advantage of Niger's instability, using our country as a staging ground to attack neighbouring countries and undermine peace, safety and freedom around the world”.