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Niger’s military junta digs in with cabinet appointments

Niamey, Aug 10 (Prensa Latina) The military junta that seized power in Niger two weeks ago has appointed new cabinet ministers and barred most international meditators from the country as it works to entrench itself in power.

The junta’s leaders named a new prime minister Monday, in what analysts described as an attempt to show that they’re serious about governing the West Africa country.

They refused to admit mediation teams that were meant to arrive Tuesday, sent by the United Nations, the African Union, and West African regional bloc ECOWAS. The junta cited “evident reasons of security in this atmosphere of menace”.

ECOWAS had threatened to use military force if the junta didn’t reinstate the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum by Sunday, a deadline that the junta ignored and which passed without action from ECOWAS.

The military leaders chose civilian economist Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine as prime minister. Zeine is a former minister of economy and finance who left office after his government was ousted by a previous military coup in 2010, and later worked at the African Development Bank.

“The establishment of a government is significant, and signals at least to the population, that they have a plan in place, with support from across the government,” said Aneliese Bernard, a former U.S. State Department official who specialized in African affairs and who is now director of Strategic Stabilization Advisors, a risk advisory group.

Mutinous soldiers detained Bazoum and seized power on July 26, claiming they could do a better job at protecting the nation from jihadi violence. Groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have ravaged the Sahel region, a vast expanse south of the Sahara Desert.

But most analysts and diplomats say that reason doesn’t hold weight and that the takeover was the result of a power struggle between the president and the head of his presidential guard, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, who now says he runs the country.

While the crisis drags on, Niger’s some 25 million people are bearing the brunt. It’s one of the poorest countries in the world. Many Nigeriens live hand to mouth and say they’re too focused on finding food for their families to pay much attention to the escalating crisis.

Harsh economic and travel sanctions imposed by ECOWAS since the coup have caused food prices to rise by up to 5%, say traders. Erkmann Tchibozo, a shop owner from neighboring Benin who works in Niamey, said it’s been hard to get anything into the country to stock his shop near the airport.