Mohamed Bazoum has been sworn-in as Niger President in a democratic watershed overshadowed by armed groups’ violence and an alleged coup bid two days ago.
The inauguration on Friday marks the first-ever transition between elected presidents in Niger’s six decades of independence from France, a historic moment that has been widely praised.
But the Sahel country’s instability and insecurity have been deeply underscored in the run-up to Friday’s ceremony.
In the early hours of Wednesday, after gunfire broke out near the presidency in the capital Niamey, the government announced an “attempted coup” had been thwarted, a “cowardly and regressive act which sought to threaten democracy and the state of law”.
The alleged coup leader is an air force officer in charge of security at Niamey’s airbase and is being “actively sought”, a source within Niger’s security services said.
Another security source said “a few members of the army” had been behind the coup but had been prevented from approaching the presidential palace by the elite Presidential Guard.
“Some arrests” were made, the source said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was among worried foreign leaders, calling the armed forces “to strictly abide by their constitutional obligations”.
Bazoum, 60, is a former interior minister and right-hand man of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou, 68, who has voluntarily stepped down after two five-year terms.
But his most formidable rival, former Prime Minister Hama Amadou, was banned from running because of a conviction for baby trafficking, a charge he has branded politically motivated.
There have been growing attacks by armed groups and political tensions in the country following Bazoum’s victory with more than 55 percent of the ballot in a February presidential election runoff. Former President Mahamane
Ousmane, who lost in the runoff, has rejected the results alleging fraud.
Last week, Niger’s top court confirmed Bazoum’s win, allowing the governing party candidate to be sworn in on April 2.
The West African nation has suffered four coups in its history, most recently a February 2010 putsch that toppled then-President Mamadou Tandja.