Niger's military regime fired a new verbal broadside at France on Friday, accusing Paris of "blatant interference" by backing the country's ousted president as protestors rallied near a French base outside the capital Niamey.
President Mohamed Bazoum, a French ally whose election in 2021 had stoked hopes of stability in the troubled country, was detained on July 26 by members of his guard.
Relations with France, the country's former colonial power and ally in its fight against jihadism, went swiftly downhill after Paris stood by Bazoum.
Comments by French President Emmanuel Macron in support of Bazoum "constitute further blatant interference in Niger's domestic affairs," regime spokesman Colonel Amadou Abdramane said in a statement read on nationwide TV.
The Sahel state is also embroiled in a standoff with the West African bloc ECOWAS, which has threatened to intervene militarily if diplomatic pressure to return the elected Bazoum to office fails.
On Monday, Macron said, "I call on all the states in the region to adopt a responsible policy."
France, he said, "supports (ECOWAS') diplomatic action and, when it so decides, (its) military" action, he said, describing this as "a partnership approach."
- Bazoum 'courage' -
On Friday, Macron paid further tribute to Bazoum, praising his "commitment, action and courage".
He dismissed Niger's rulers as having "no legitimacy" and insisted France would make its decisions with regard to Niger "on the basis of exchanges with President Bazoum".
Abdramane said, "Mr. Macron's comments and his unceasing efforts in favour of an invasion of Niger aim at perpetuating a neo-colonial operation against the Nigerien people, who ask for nothing more than to decide its own destiny for itself."
Abdramane said Niger's "differences" with France "do not touch on the relationship between our peoples, or on individuals, but on the relevance of the French military presence in Niger."
On August 3, the regime denounced military agreements with France, a move that Paris has ignored on the grounds of legitimacy.
The agreements cover different timeframes, although one of them dating from 2012 was set to expire within a month, according to military leaders.
- Protest -
France has around 1,500 troops in Niger, many of them stationed at an airbase near the capital, who are deployed to help fight a bloody jihadist insurgency.
Thousands of people on Friday gathered outside the base to demand the troops leave.
The three-day "sit-in" has been organised by the M62, a coalition of civil groups opposed to the French military presence in Niger.
"France must leave and she will leave, because Niger is not her home," said an M62 leader, Falma Taya.
A week earlier, the regime gave French ambassador Sylvain Itte 48 hours to leave the country.
France has also refused the demand, saying that the military rulers had no legal authority to force him out.
French military spokesman Colonel Pierre Gaudilliere Thursday warned that "the French military forces are ready to respond to any upturn in tension that could harm French diplomatic and military premises in Niger".
Despite the tensions, efforts to resolve the crisis peacefully are continuing.
Nigerian President Bola Tinubu -- who is also current chairman of ECOWAS and has taken a hard line on the coup -- on Thursday floated the idea of a nine-month transition back to democracy.
Earlier this week, Algeria, which shares a 1,000-kilometre (620-mile) land border with Niger, proposed a six-month transitional plan that would be overseen by a civilian power.