France is prepared to evacuate its people from Niger, a West African country, because of anti-French sentiment following last week’s coup.
It has stated that it will also assist other European nationals in leaving.
Protests against the former colonial power have erupted, with the French embassy being attacked.
It comes as juntas in Burkina Faso and Mali have warned that any forced attempt to reinstall the deposed president would be interpreted as a declaration of war.
After conducting their own coups in recent years, the two neighbours, both former French colonies, have moved away from France and towards Russia.
Their warning represents a dramatic turn in the situation in a territory suffering from an Islamist extremist insurgency.
Niger, which is rich in uranium, has been a vital Western ally in the war against Islamic extremism in the Sahel, with military facilities in both France and the United States.
After Mali’s military commanders decided to join forces with Russian Wagner mercenaries in 2021, France relocated its regional counter-terrorism operations to Niger.
Protesters screamed “Long live Russia”, “Long live Putin”, and “Down with France” outside the French consulate in Niamey on Sunday.
They also set fire to the embassy compound’s walls.
In light of the circumstances, the French foreign ministry said that evacuations would begin on Tuesday.
It also stated that the closing of Niger’s airspace had affected its decision, making it hard for French people to depart on their own.
Italians are also being offered the opportunity to depart Niamey on a special aircraft for Italy, according to Italy’s foreign minister.
Earlier, France had hailed the West African group Ecowas’ ultimatum issued on Sunday, giving Niger’s junta a week to reinstall elected President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been imprisoned at the presidential palace in Niamey.
The next day, Chad’s President Mahamat Idris Déby was in Niger, conducting mediation efforts on behalf of the Ecowas, and was seen with Mr. Bazoum.
Burkina Faso and Mali issued a combined statement saying that if Ecowas acted militarily, they would resign from the bloc and seek the support of their eastern neighbour.
According to them, such an intervention would be terrible and destabilizing.
Following recent coups, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea have all been suspended from ECOWAS.
The latest significant military intervention by ECOWAS was in The Gambia in 2017, when Yahya Jammeh refused to resign as president after losing elections to Adama Barrow. Mr. Jammeh fled to Equatorial Guinea once West African forces arrived.
Following a failed coup attempt in Guinea-Bissau, the regional organisation also dispatched soldiers to assist the government there last year.
The junta in Niger has not responded to the ECOWAS demand but has sworn to defend the country against any “aggression” by regional or Western forces. It accused France of plotting military action.
However, on Monday evening, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna informed French television station BFM TV that the claim was false.
“I am not sure that everyone in Niger sleeps with a Russian flag under their pillow,” she said, referring to the coup, which has been applauded by the secretive Wagner organisation. However, it is probable that Russia will try to exploit the situation. It also occurs in other nations in the region. It’s only a guess.”
On Tuesday, the atmosphere in Niamey was believed to be quiet as preparations for the evacuation of Western citizens began.
The French foreign ministry is presently holding a crisis meeting in order to coordinate with the embassy in Niamey.
According to newsmen, the evacuation plans would have no effect on Orano’s activities in Niger because the French nuclear fuel firm stated that the majority of its employees are Nigerien nationals.