The general who led a coup in Niger has declared himself the country’s new leader.
General Abdourahmane Tchiani appeared on state TV on Friday to identify himself as the head of the revolt – as he appealed for unity and international help.
It comes after the country’s presidential guard surrounded the palace in the capital, Niamey, and detained elected president Mohamed Bazoum on Wednesday.
Sources behind the scenes have claimed that different military factions since then have been holding talks about who should replace him, and described the situation as “tense”.
General Tchiani defended the coup in his TV speech, saying the military could no longer stand by and “witness the gradual and inevitable demise of our country.”
He added: “That is why we decided to intervene and take responsibility.”
Mr Bazoum had been seen as a key Western ally in the region in the fight against extremists linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.
His apparent overthrow has sparked concern from countries such as the US that a change in leadership could lead to Niger becoming more closely aligned with Russia instead.
General Tchiani appeared on screen with a banner describing him as the president of the National Council for Safeguarding the Homeland – and his spokesman confirmed the army chief considered himself to be the new head of state.
Appealing for help, he said: “I ask the technical and financial partners who are friends of Niger to understand the specific situation of our country in order to provide it with all the support necessary to enable it to meet the challenges.”
However, the French government said there was still time to reverse what it described as an “attempted coup”.
France, which ruled Niger as a colony until 1960, has 1,500 soldiers in the country, who had been conducting joint operations with its government.
French foreign minister Catherine Colonna told French media: “If you are hearing me speak of an attempted coup, that’s because we do not regard things as definitive.”
She said there were “possible exits if those responsible for this attempt hear the message from the international community”.
Speaking in Papua New Guinea, President Emmanuel Macron condemned the revolt as “completely illegitimate and profoundly dangerous for the Nigeriens, Niger and the whole region”.
He also said he had spoken repeatedly with Mr Bazoum, and said he was in good health despite being in detention.
It comes after the army’s chief of staff Abdou Sidikou Issa appeared on TV on Thursday to declare his support for the coup, which he said had been necessary because of a “deteriorating security situation and bad governance”.
Mr Bazoum was elected two years ago in the nation’s first peaceful transfer of power since Niger’s independence in 1960.