France has begun the evacuation of hundreds of French and European citizens from Niger, days after President Mohamed Bazoum was overthrown by members of his presidential guard.
The first of three flights to evacuate French and European citizens from Niger lifted off Tuesday evening.
“There are 262 people on board the plane, an Airbus A330, including a dozen babies,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told AFP news agency.
“Nearly all the passengers are compatriots” along with “some European nationals”.
Colonna said the flight would land at Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport during the night.
France, Italy and Spain had all announced evacuations from Niger for their citizens and other European nationals.
France’s Foreign Ministry cited recent violence that targeted its embassy in Niamey, the capital, as one of the reasons for its decision to offer evacuation flights to several hundred of its citizens and other Europeans. It said the closure of Niger’s airspace “leaves our compatriots unable to leave the country by their own means”.Germany’s foreign office said its citizens in Niger should “take the next available opportunity to leave” if their stay in the country is not necessary. In an earlier statement, it said that the French had “offered, within the limits of available capacity, to take German nationals on board their flights from Niger”.
Italian foreign minister Antonio Tajani said there would be a “special flight to Italy”.
In Niamey hotels, Europeans and other nationalities, including some Americans, packed bags. At the airport, hundreds of people lined up for hours waiting to leave on French evacuation flights. Parents sat on the floor with their toddlers, others talked on the phone and some stood silent.The number of European nationals in Niger remains unclear but there are around 70 Spaniards in the country and at least 600 French nationals, according to reports.
Meanwhile, Germany’s foreign ministry said on Monday that it presumes fewer than 100 German citizens are currently in Niger, excluding those who are in the country as part of a Bundeswehr military mission.
In Washington, the White House said the United States was not joining European allies in evacuating citizens for now, citing a lack of immediate danger.
Washington is “certainly aware of efforts by France and other European nations to evacuate their citizens. At the same time, we don’t have any indications of direct threats to US citizens or to our facilities, so we have not changed our posture with respect to our presence in Niger at this time,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.
About 1,000 US troops are stationed in the land-locked African nation.
Kirby said the White House still sees a “window” for diplomacy to resolve the Niger crisis but added that “we’re monitoring it literally by the hour.”