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Niger’s military rulers say ousted president tried to escape custody

Niger’s military rulers say they have foiled an attempt by Mohamed Bazoum, the former president they ousted in a coup in July, to escape custody.

“At around three in the morning, the ousted president Mohamed Bazoum and his family, his two cooks and two security elements, tried to escape from his place of detention,” the regime’s spokesperson, Amadou Abdramane, said on state television.

The escape attempt failed and “the main actors and some of the accomplices” were arrested, he said in the broadcast on Thursday evening. An investigation has been launched.

Abdramane said the escape plan had involved Bazoum getting to a hideout on the outskirts of Niger’s capital, Niamey. They had then planned to fly out on helicopters “belonging to a foreign power” towards Nigeria, he added, denouncing Bazoum’s “irresponsible attitude”.

Since Bazoum was toppled by the military on 26 July, he has refused to resign. The former president was being held at his residence in the heart of the presidential palace with his wife, Haziza, and son, Salem. Abdramane did not say where they were being held now.

In September, Bazoum’s lawyers said he had filed a legal case with a court of the Economic Community of West African States against those who deposed him. They also said they were taking his case to the UN human rights council.

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The army officers who overthrew Bazoum cited as justification the deteriorating security situation in Niger because of jihadist attacks.

Niger is battling two jihadist insurgencies: a spillover in the south-east from a long-running conflict in neighbouring Nigeria; and an offensive in the west by militants crossing from Mali and Burkina Faso.

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At the start of the month, Niger held three days of national mourning after 29 soldiers were killed in a suspected jihadist attack, the deadliest since the military took power in July.

The first group of French soldiers, ordered out of Niger by its post-coup military rulers, arrived on Thursday by road in N’Djamena, the capital of neighbouring Chad. The convoy “has arrived without any particular problems” in N’Djamena after 10 days on the road and in coordination with Nigerien forces, the French military spokesperson, Pierre Gaudillière, told AFP.

The troops will depart by air from Chad to France, with the withdrawal expected to be completed by the end of December.

About 1,400 soldiers were based in Niamey and in western Niger to combat fighters linked to Islamic State and al-Qaida, bringing with them fighter jets, drones, helicopters and armoured vehicles.

France has supported Bazoum since the coup and is calling for his release, as are several other countries and organisations.