West African leaders will gather on Thursday after the Niger junta ignores a crucial deadline and shuts down the airspace.

Leaders of the regional bloc for West Africa announced on Monday that they would meet later this week to discuss the following course of action after the Niger military junta ignored a deadline to restore the country’s ousted president while its mutinous soldiers shut down the country’s airspace and claimed that foreign powers were preparing an attack.

According to a representative of the ECOWAS group, the meeting was slated to take place on Thursday in Abuja, the capital of neighboring Nigeria.

Hours before the deadline set by ECOWAS, which has threatened to use military force if the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum is not restored to office, state television covered the junta’s most recent activities on Sunday night.

The coup leaders’ spokesperson, Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane, underlined “the threat of intervention being prepared in a neighboring country” and announced that Niger’s airspace will be shut down until further notice. Attempts to fly over the nation will be greeted with “an energetic and immediate response.”

The junta additionally asserted, without naming them, that two nations in central Africa were getting ready for an invasion. The people of Niger were urged to stand up for their country.

Following Niger’s independence from France in 1960, Bazoum’s fall in a coup put an end to the country’s first peaceful democratic transfer of power. In the Sahel region of Africa, where Russia and Western nations have competed for influence, the coup also prompted concerns about the future of the fight against extremism.

The United States and others had viewed Niger as the last significant counterterrorism partner in the Sahel, south of the Sahara Desert, where organizations affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are extending their influence. Now, international airlines have started to divert flights around Niger.

Also on Monday, Mali announced that delegations would be sent to Niger to offer support. Mali and Burkina Faso are both Niger’s neighbors and are both ruled by military juntas. Both nations have stated that any interference in Niger would be viewed as a declaration of war against them.

The AP observed many Burkinabe security guards at a hotel in the nation’s capital.

Since the coup in Niger over two weeks ago, when mutinous soldiers jailed Bazoum and installed Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, the former commander of the presidential guard, as leader of the state, regional tensions have increased. According to analysts, a power struggle between Tchiani and the president, who was ready to remove him, led to the coup.

It was unclear right away what the ECOWAS leaders would do. A course of action has divided the area. The most likely point of entrance by land, the border between Niger and Nigeria, showed no signs of military forces assembling.

The Nigerian Senate has opposed the invasion plan and urged the country’s president, who is also the bloc’s current chair, to consider other options. Since final decisions are reached by consensus among member nations, ECOWAS can still proceed.

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