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Niger inaugurates new president in first democratic power transfer

The Republic of Niger has sworn in Mohamed Bazoum as its new president.

The inauguration on Friday of the teacher-turned-politician is the former French colony’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960.

Mr. Bazoum’s assumption to office also comes days after Niger’s security forces thwarted an attempted military coup at the presidential palace overnight from Tuesday into Wednesday.

The landlocked West African nation, which faces unprecedented threats from Islamic extremists near its troubled border with Mali, witnessed the swearing in of its new leader in the capital, Niamey, amid tight security.

During Friday’s inauguration speech, Mr. Bazoum pledged to be “the elected President for all Nigeriens”.

He promised to preserve the unity and brotherhood of the Nigerien people, and 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 the country.”

“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, Mr. Bazoum said.

The new president succeeds Mahamadou Issoufou who is stepping down after serving two terms, in accordance with Niger’s constitution. Mr. Issoufou’s decision to respect the constitution has been widely praised both at home and abroad.

As for Mr. Bazoum, who is in effect Mr. Issoufou’s chosen successor, he’s best known as a longtime Cabinet minister who hails from Niger’s small ethnic Arab minority.

He faces an adamant political opposition whose most prominent figure and his number-one election rival, Mahamane Ousmane, strongly rejects the election results, claiming they are fraudulent. Mr. Ousmane’s supporters have been holding mass demonstrations across the country.

Mr. Bazoum also has an impoverished country to deal with as well as a restive military which has launched four coups since independence.

If anything, fears have been mounting that his inauguration could prompt more violence across the country. The latest massacre, which claimed at least 137 lives, came on the same day the constitutional court certified Mr. Bazoum’s electoral victory.

At least 100 others were killed in villages near the border on the day the election commission announced that the presidential vote would go to a second round on February 21.

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