EU foreign ministers convene in Spain to address African political turmoil, sanctions

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European Union foreign ministers meet in Spain on Thursday to discuss their response to last month’s coup in Niger - including possible sanctions - as they also consider news of military officers declaring they have seized power in Gabon.

The instability in the West and Central African countries will be a major theme of the informal gathering in the medieval city of Toledo, along with discussions on the war in Ukraine with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

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Hassoumi Massoudou, the foreign minister of Niger’s ousted government, and Omar Touray, the head of the commission of West Africa’s main regional bloc ECOWAS, will attend the talks.

“It is clear that the coup in Niger is opening a new era of instability in a region which was already very fragile, and this will undermine the stability of the region,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Toledo on Wednesday.

West and Central African nations had in the last decade made strides to shed the region’s reputation as a “coup belt”, only for persistent insecurity, disputed elections and systemic corruption to open the door to a string of military takeovers.

European officials said they were still trying to understand the dramatic events in Gabon, which unfolded in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Borrell said the EU was “moving forward” with work on a legal framework for sanctions against the junta in Niger and the foreign ministers would discuss it further on Thursday.

Both the EU and ECOWAS have already imposed punitive economic and political measures on Niger but the framework would allow the EU to target specific individuals and organisations.

Borrell said on Wednesday after an EU defence ministers’ meeting that the EU would seek to mirror any measures taken by ECOWAS.

Diplomats said another subject of discussion was how the EU should respond if ECOWAS asks for financial help for a military intervention to restore Niger’s ousted government.

Asked whether the EU would support a military intervention or how it would respond to one, Borrell replied: “This will also be discussed, but of course we have to know what it is, how, when, where, and in what way. We cannot write blank cheques.”

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