Members of Niger’s presidential guard have surrounded the presidential palace in what African organisations called an attempted coup against the country’s democratically elected leader.
The US said the rebelling soldiers have detained President Mohamed Bazoum.
A tweet from the account of Niger’s presidency reported that members of the elite guard unit engaged in an “anti-Republican demonstration” and unsuccessfully tried to obtain support from other security forces.
It did not refer to a coup and said Mr Bazoum and his family were doing well, but that Niger’s army and national guard “are ready to attack” if those involved in the action did not back down.
However, the commissions of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States called the actions of the presidential guardsman an effort to unseat Mr Bazoum, who was elected president two years ago in Niger’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960.
The Ecowas Commission, which manages the programmes of the 15-nation regional power bloc, said it “condemns in the strongest terms the attempt to seize power by force and calls on the coup plotters to free the democratically elected president of the republic immediately and without any condition”.
Mr Bazoum’s administration has made Niger a key Western partner in the fight against Islamist extremism, which has wracked the country’s west.
In the decades before his election, Niger had multiple coups, and the president thwarted an attempted coup days before he was sworn into office.
The governments of France and the United States voiced concern and urged the participating guardsmen to change course.
“We strongly condemn any effort to detain or subvert the functioning of Niger’s democratically elected government, led by President Bazoum,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said. “We specifically urge elements of the presidential guard to release President Bazoum from detention and refrain from violence.”
Streets surrounding the presidential palace in the capital, Niamey, were blocked off on Wednesday, as were some government ministries.
By early evening, hundreds of people showed up to demonstrate in support of the president. Shots were fired at the protest, although it was not immediately clear by whom.
There was a military build-up outside the headquarters of the state radio and television networks. Pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns lined the roads to both buildings, with members of the army and national guard waving cars through.
The Associated Press saw around a dozen reinforcements from the national guard protecting the radio network. Some international security forces operating in the country were put on lockdown.
A source told The Associated Press that on Wednesday morning the presidential guard surrounded Mr Bazoum’s house when he and his wife were inside and that negotiations were under way between the parties.
Threats to Mr Bazoum’s leadership would undermine the West’s efforts to stabilise Africa’s Sahel region.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken visited Niger in March, seeking to strengthen ties with a country where the security situation was not as dire as in neighbouring nations.
Mali and Burkina Faso have had four coups since 2020, and both are being overrun by extremists linked to al Qaida and the Islamic State group. Mercenaries from the Russian military company Wagner have also deployed in those countries.