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ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — West Africa’s top court on Thursday rejected a request by Niger’s junta for a lifting of coup-related sanctions imposed by its neighbors, ruling that the junta is unconstitutional and therefore lacks the authority to make such a request.
Following the July coup that toppled Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum, the West African regional bloc ECOWAS imposed sanctions including shutting borders with the member country, suspending financial transactions and freezing Niger's assets. Neighboring Nigeria cut off power that supplied 70% of Niger's electricity.
Niger challenged the sanctions at the ECOWAS Court of Justice in the Nigerian capital Abuja arguing they were causing severe hardship for Niger's citizens, including by curtailing supplies of food and medicine. Niger's coup leaders asked for a provisional halt to the sanctions pending a final judgement on the issue.
Delivering the ruling Thursday, Justice Dupe Atoki called Niger's junta the result of “an unconstitutional change of government” and said that it is not recognized as a member state of the regional bloc.
“Therefore, to the extent that the request for provisional measures in the name of Niger has been brought by an unconstitutional and unrecognized government, it is ... inadmissible,” the judge said.
The ruling could further complicate efforts to resolve the political crisis in Niger and return the country to civilian rule. The junta, which has appointed a prime minister, has set a possible three-year timeline to return power to civilians, which ECOWAS has rejected.
Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé – who has emerged as a mediator between Niger and the regional bloc – was visiting Niger on Thursday ahead of an ECOWAS summit scheduled on Sunday in Abuja to discuss the coup in Niger and other political crises across West Africa.
Niger's deposed president, Bazoum, is still detained by the junta. ECOWAS has demanded his unconditional release and reinstatement as one of the conditions for lifting the sanctions.