Nigerien group calls for French anti-extremist force to quit

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A civil society movement in Niger Wednesday launched an online petition to demand the departure of France’s Barkhane anti-extremist operation, after the authorities banned a protest against the French mission.

France said Monday it had pulled out its last troops from neighboring Mali, after nearly a decade of helping to fight extremists in the region.

Paris says it is downsizing its presence in the wider Sahel to around 2,500 troops, including a thousand or so in Niger, a key ally.

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The M26 movement, which includes several Nigerien civil society groups, said on Wednesday it would respect the “banning” of a protest it had planned for the day.

But it had decided to “launch an online petition against Barkhane’s presence in Niger,” it said.

President Mohamed Bazoum should “make it leave our country,” as he should “any other evil force whose aim is to destabilize and/or plunder the resources of our country and the Sahel,” it said.

In April, Nigerien lawmakers had voted in favor of foreign troops, including French soldiers, deploying in the country to fight extremists.

But late last year, France faced a wave of anger in Niger.

A convoy left Ivory Coast on its way to re-supplying French troops at a base in Mali, but encountered protests in Burkina Faso and then in western Niger.

Shots were fired to disperse crowds in the town of Tera, killing three people.

It was not immediately clear whether Nigerien or French forces had fired the deadly shots, and both countries said they wanted to compensate the families of the victims.

French forces first intervened in the Sahel’s extremist emergency in 2013, sending troops to support Malian forces fighting a regional insurgency.

It widened the effort a year later with Operation Barkhane, eventually deploying some 5,100 troops, warplanes and drones in former colonies Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

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