French President Emmanuel Macron has applauded France’s ambassador, Ambassador Sylvain Itte, for remaining in Niger despite being given a 48-hour deadline to leave the country.
Hours after the expiration of the deadline, Mr. Itte still remained in Niger.
In a major foreign policy speech to ambassadors gathered in Paris as well as others listening remotely, Mr Macron said: “France and its diplomats have faced particularly difficult situations in some countries in recent months, from Sudan, where France has been exemplary, to Niger at this very moment.”
“I applaud your colleague and your colleagues who are listening from their posts.” he said
Niger’s elected president Mohamed Bazoum was overthrown last month in a coup which has been condemned by France and many of Niger’s neighbours, including the West African regional bloc Ecowas.
The junta said Ambassador Itte had refused to meet Niger’s new leaders after the coup, and announced that the French ambassador had 48 hours to leave.
On Sunday, thousands of Nigeriens in support of the coup demonstrated near the French military base in the capital, Niamey, while some held signs demanding the departure of French troops.
In Monday’s speech, Mr Macron defended France’s military presence in Niger, stating that without intervention from Paris, the country would “no longer exist” with its “existing borders”.
Mr Macron said neighbours – Mali and Burkina Faso, which are both under military rule, would have suffered the same fate without France.
In 2013, France sent troops to Mali to lead counter-terror operations against an uprising of separatist rebels and Islamist fighters, and later expanded its operation to countries in the wider Sahel region – including Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger.