- The first of three flights to evacuate French and European citizens from Niger lifted off Tuesday evening
France says it plans to conduct an imminent evacuation of people seeking to leave Niger after the coup last week in the former French colony.
It has said it will also help other European nationals to leave.
The coup has prompted protests against the former colonial power, with the French embassy coming under attack.
Niger, which is rich in uranium, has been a key Western ally in the fight against jihadist extremism in the Sahel and both France and the US have military bases there.
After Mali’s military leaders chose to partner up with the Russian Wagner mercenaries in 2021, France moved the centre of its regional counter-terror operations to Niger.
On Sunday, protesters outside the French embassy in the capital, Niamey, chanted ‘Long live Russia’, ‘Long live Putin’ and ‘Down with France’.
They also set fire to the walls of the embassy compound.
The French foreign ministry said its evacuations decision was also influenced by the closure of Niger’s airspace, which had made it impossible for French citizens to leave by their own means.
The first of three flights to evacuate French and European citizens from Niger lifted off Tuesday evening.
‘There are 262 people on board the plane, an Airbus A330, including a dozen babies,’ French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told AFP news agency.
‘Nearly all the passengers are compatriots’ along with ‘some European nationals’.
France, Italy and Spain had all announced evacuations from Niger for their citizens and other European nationals.