Niger inaugurates president in 1st democratic power transfer

NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — Niger has sworn in its new president in the West African nation’s first democratic transfer of power.

Newly elected President Mohamed Bazoum’s inauguration Friday comes days after Niger’s security forces thwarted an attempted military coup at the presidential palace overnight from Tuesday into Wednesday. Niger already faces unprecedented threats from Islamic extremists near its troubled border with Mali.

Bazoum succeeds President Mahamadou Issoufou who is stepping down after serving two terms, in accordance with Niger’s constitution. Issoufou’s decision to respect the constitution has been widely hailed and paves the way for Niger’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960. The West African nation has seen four coups.

Bazoum pledged to be “the elected President for all Nigeriens” during his inauguration speech Friday. While promising to preserve the unity and brotherhood of the Nigerien people, President Bazoum said he was prepared to maintain with the leaders of the opposition “the constructive dialogue necessary to promote a peaceful political climate, favorable to the interests of our country.”

His main election rival, Mahamane Ousmane, has rejected election results claiming fraud. Supporters for Ousmane have held mass demonstrations.

“I will be a President of the Republic in the service of peace, progress and happiness of the Nigerien people” and of the African continent, Bazoum said.

Bazoum is Issoufou’s chosen successor and a longtime Cabinet minister who is from Niger’s small ethnic Arab minority. He was a former interior minister in Niger and is also a teacher by training.

Fears, however, have been mounting that the inauguration could prompt more violence in Niger. The latest massacre killing at least 137 people came on the same day the constitutional court certified Bazoum’s electoral victory. And at least 100 others were killed in villages near the border on the day that Niger announced the presidential election would go to a second round on Feb. 21.

Security was tight Friday in the capital, Niamey.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price congratulated the newly inaugurated president.

“The United States congratulates Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum on his inauguration, marking an historic transfer of power from one democratically elected president to the next. This is a significant milestone for Niger’s democracy,” according to the statement. “We value the strong relationship between the United States and Niger and look forward to working with President Bazoum’s administration to expand bilateral relations including in the areas of development, humanitarian assistance, security, and trade.”

The U.S. also remains concerned by the recent outbreak of violence in the capital, and condemns “any attempt to undermine Niger’s democratically elected government,” according to the statement.

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