Supporters of the military junta protest against a potential military intervention by neighboring West African nations in Niamey, Niger, on Sunday. Photo by Issifou Djibo/EPA-EFE
Aug. 20 (UPI) -- Niger's coup leader says he's willing to return the country to democracy after three years following a meeting with a delegation of West African leaders who have threatened military intervention.
Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani, whose military faction seized power the sub-Saharan nation on July 26, said in an address on state television late Saturday that the "principles" of a handover within that time frame would be discussed by the coup leaders during the next 30 days.
He did not reveal any details of the plan during the 12-minute address, but did warn that Niger would defend itself against any intervention by the Economic Community of West African States, which includes neighboring Nigeria.
"If an attack were to be undertaken against us, it will not be the walk in the park some people seem to think," Tchiani said, adding that economic sanctions imposed by ECOWAS were "illegal" and "inhuman."
His address came shortly after a delegation from the 15-member regional bloc led by former Nigerian military head of state Abdulsalami Abubakar met with Tchiani and other junta leaders in the capital city of Niamey.
The West African states have threatened retaliation if Niger President Mohamed Bazoum is not released. Although no deadline for a intervention has been announced, ECOWAS officials meeting Friday in Ghana said they have set a "D-Day" for military action and their forces are ready to go "anytime the order is given."
On Sunday, supporters of the military junta rallied against a potential military intervention. the Spanish news agency EFE reported.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis issued an appeal for a peaceful solution to the situation, supporting the efforts of the international community to avoid bloodshed "for the good of all the people."
The Pontiff made the appeal during Sunday's Angelus at St. Peter's Square in Rome, lending his voice to an earlier plea for restraint made by West African Catholic bishops.
"We join calls for restraint, discernment, and responsibility on the part of ECOWAS and other regional and international bodies in this delicate matter," the Regional Conference of Major Superiors of West Africa said a statement.