Soldiers from the presidential guard in the West African nation of Niger barricaded the president in his palace in an apparent mutiny on Wednesday, according to the Nigerien president’s office and the regional bloc of neighboring states.
The fate of the country’s president, Mohamed Bazoum, was unclear, although his representatives said that he was safe. The standoff raised fears of a coup in a region that has lately been jolted by many.
Niger, a vast and landlocked country in the area of Africa known as the Sahel, has experienced four military coups since independence from France in 1960 — most recently in 2010. Militant groups linked to both Al Qaeda and Islamic State operate there.
Mr. Bazoum, who was elected in 2021, has been one of the most reliable partners to many Western countries in a volatile region filled with aging presidents clinging to power and young military officers who have seized power by force. The leaders of neighboring Mali and nearby Central African Republic have turned to Russia’s Wagner militia forces for protection.
The office of the Nigerien presidency said on Twitter, in a post that is no longer visible, “Early this Wednesday morning, elements of the Presidential Guard engaged in an anti-Republican move and tried in vain to obtain the support of the National Armed Forces and the National Guard.”
It added that the military was standing ready to “attack the elements” behind the mutiny if they do not relent.
An adviser to Mr. Bazoum, speaking from inside the presidential palace in the capital, Niamey, said that some members of the presidential guard had locked up the president and some of his team there in order to negotiate.
“No outcome for now,” said the adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns.
About 20 members of the presidential guard were seen standing in front of the palace on Wednesday afternoon. Many of Niamey’s streets were deserted, and the ministries of Interior and Defense had been vacated. The military was guarding the entrances of the national television headquarters.
The coming hours will be crucial in Niamey, said Hassane Koné, a researcher at the nonprofit Institute for Security Studies, whose work focuses on the Sahel.
While the situation had not yet turned violent, residents fear that troops loyal to the president could clash with those encircling the presidential compound, he said.
In a statement, ECOWAS, the regional body of countries, condemned what it called the “attempted coup” and called on the “coup plotters” to release Mr. Bazoum without condition.
It raised the prospect that Niger was in the throes of West Africa’s sixth coup since 2020, following earlier military-led ousters in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali.
A coup also took place in the northeastern nation of Sudan in November 2021, laying the ground for the catastrophic conflict between rival military factions that erupted in April this year.
Niger has held strategic importance for France, the former colonizer that has faced rising discontent from neighboring countries of Niger in recent years. France withdrew troops from Mali and Burkina Faso, after relationships with military juntas there soured.
Last year, the European Union pledged to provide $1.3 billion to shift Niger’s economy away from oil. During a visit to the country in March, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced $150 million in humanitarian assistance to Niger and neighboring countries.
Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser at the White House, called Niger “a critical partner for the United States,” and said: “We strongly condemn any effort to detain or subvert the functioning of Niger’s democratically elected government, led by President Bazoum. We specifically urge elements of the presidential guard to release President Bazoum from detention and refrain from violence.”
Ulf Laessing, the head of the Sahel program at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, noted in an interview on Wednesday that Niamey was calm when he traveled there last week.
But he said that Mr. Bazoum may have faced growing discontent from parts of the military that have not received funding from Western partners. He added that many Nigeriens, especially in Niamey, are suffering hardship amid factors including a rising cost of living .
Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Nairobi, Kenya, Lynsey Chutel from Johannesburg and Eric Schmitt from Washington.