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Niger’s new military junta has closed the country’s airspace for an indefinite period citing the threat of military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) after a deadline set by the bloc passed without the restoration of the ousted president.

“In the face of the threat of intervention that is becoming more apparent . . . Nigerien airspace is closed effective from today,” a junta spokesman said in an address on national television late on Sunday.

The closure of the airspace has forced airlines to reroute or divert flights.

Flight tracking website Flightradar24 said the closure was scheduled until the end of Monday but with a “high likelihood of extension”.

Pro-western President Mohamed Bazoum was last month deposed in a coup by the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP). Omar Tchiani, the head of the presidential guard, declared himself as the country’s leader.

Ecowas gave the putschists a seven-day deadline to return the democratically elected Bazoum to power and threatened to use “all measures necessary”, including the use of force, if the junta did not comply. The deadline passed on Sunday.

In the televised address, the junta’s spokesman said any attempts to violate the closure of Nigerien airspace would be met with an “energetic and immediate response.”

“Niger’s armed forces and all our defence and security forces, backed by the unfailing support of our people, are ready to defend the integrity of our territory,” he said.

In a separate statement, the junta said two central African countries had made “pre-deployment in preparation for intervention”, but did not name the countries.

Thousands of pro-junta supporters attended a packed rally at the General Seyni Kountché stadium in the capital Niamey on Sunday decked in the national colours, waving Russian flags and carrying portraits of members of the ruling junta.

General Mohamed Toumba, one of the leaders of last month’s coup, told the crowd at the stadium that the junta was aware of a “Machiavellian” scheme determined to thwart Niger’s “march forward”.

Ecowas countries closed all land and air borders between them and Niger the previous Sunday and imposed a no-fly zone on all commercial flights to and from the landlocked country of 25mn people.

The closure of Niger’s airspace will force airliners flying between Europe and southern Africa to add at least 1,000 kilometres to their flight routes, according to Flightradar24.

General Tchiani has appointed governors in Niger’s eight provinces and is hoping to form a cabinet this week after dissolving all institutions under Bazoum. Many prominent politicians affiliated with the previous government have since been arrested.

Ecowas defence chiefs concluded plans for possible military intervention on Friday in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. Abdel-Fatau Musah, Ecowas commissioner for political affairs, peace and security, said the bloc was still focused on making “diplomacy work”, but warned it was prepared to use force if talks did not bear fruit.

“We are determined to stop it, but Ecowas is not going to tell the coup plotters when and where we are going to strike,” Musah said. “That is an operational decision that will be taken by the heads of state.”

Former colonial power France said over the weekend it backed Ecowas’ efforts to end the coup but did not specify if that included supporting the use of force. Mali and Burkina Faso, which are both led by military governments, have said any intervention in Niger would be a “declaration of war” on their countries too.



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