West African heads of state are discussing their response to last month’s military takeover in Niger at closed-door talks in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital on Thursday after the junta defied their earlier threat to use force to restore democracy.
The meeting is taking place hours after Niger’s coup leaders named a new government, forcing their agenda before the summit.
Since the July 26 power grab, the junta has rebuffed diplomatic overtures and ignored an Aug. 6 deadline from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to reinstate ousted president Mohamed Bazoum.
Mahamane Roufai Laouali, cited as “Secretary General of the Government”, named 21 ministers on state television overnight without specifying any further government plans.
Three leaders of the military takeover were named ministers of defence, interior and sports.
Former Finance Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine, who had been named prime minister on Monday, was appointed finance minister for the new government. Niger’s previous government had 43 ministers and none were military officers.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced concern about Bazoum and his family after his party reported that they were being detained at the presidential residence without electricity or running water, and had gone days without fresh food.
“The Secretary-General… once again calls for his immediate, unconditional release and his reinstatement as Head of State,” a U.N. spokesperson said on Wednesday.
The meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, could prove a pivotal moment in the standoff.
The bloc’s leaders are expected to agree on next steps, which could include military intervention – something an ECOWAS official has said would be a last resort.