junta says nigers ousted president tried to escape his lawyer says no way
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Mohamed Bazoum, who was toppled in a coup, has been under house arrest with his family for nearly three months while leaders in Africa, the United States and Europe have pushed for his release.

The military junta in the West African country of Niger claimed that it had disrupted an attempt by the ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, to escape on Thursday from the presidential residence, where he has been detained since he was overthrown in a coup nearly three months ago.

His lawyers denied the assertion, said that they had lost contact with him, and called once again for his immediate release.

Since mutinous soldiers in Niger seized power in a coup in late July, Mr. Bazoum had been stranded with his wife and son in the presidential residence in Niger’s capital, Niamey. While Mr. Bazoum had been able to communicate with his lawyers, they said that since Wednesday night they had received no news of his whereabouts or condition.

“It’s a total blackout,” Mohamed Seydou Diagne, one of Mr. Bazoum’s lawyers, said in a telephone interview on Friday. “We have reasons to worry, even more so when we know that he is in the hands of the military.”

A spokesman for the Nigerien military leaders did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Bazoum, who became president in 2021, was considered a close ally of France and the United States, which both maintained military bases there. Niger, a poor, landlocked country of 25 million, has been battling Islamist insurgents affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Niger’s military junta said in a statement that Mr. Bazoum had tried to escape at 3 a.m. on Thursday with his family, two security personnel and two cooks. An unmarked vehicle waiting nearby was supposed to take them to the outskirts of Niamey, the junta said, before “two helicopters belonging to a foreign power” would have flown them to neighboring Nigeria.

The junta said it had arrested “the main actors and some of their accomplices,” but did not say whether this included the president.

But Mr. Bazoum’s lawyer, Mr. Diagne, called the idea of an escape far-fetched. “How can one escape a military precinct?” he said, referring to the military compound where the presidential residence sits.

Electricity and water were cut off to the residence in early August. A doctor who was bringing food to the family every two days was denied access to the residence Friday morning, the lawyers said.

After the coup in late July, West African countries threatened to mount a military operation to release Mr. Bazoum and restore constitutional order in Niger.

But prospects of military action have largely faded, and Niger’s junta has instead tightened its grip on the country. It has severed ties with France, which began withdrawing the 1,500 troops it had in the country last week. It has formed a new security alliance with neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali, two other junta-led countries. And it has silenced opposition voices and journalists.

Last week, the Biden administration announced that it was suspending nearly $200 million in aid and an additional $442 million in trade and agricultural assistance to Niger, after designating the July military takeover a coup.

An adviser to Mr. Bazoum, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss his situation, said that until Thursday the ousted president had been able to communicate with close allies and his lawyers through a telephone that those guarding him had not confiscated.

This time, the friend said, Mr. Bazoum seemed to be without any means of communication with the outside world.

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