West Africans to meet amid standoff with Niger junta

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MILITARY JUNTA DEFIES ULTIMATUM: All eyes are on West Africa again this week as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decides whether to go to war with Niger’s military junta.

Thursday summit: The bloc has decided to hold an emergency session Thursday to determine a course of action, after Niger’s junta defied an ultimatum to reinstate the country’s democratically elected president — who was a key ally of the EU, and particularly France, in the fight against Islamist groups.

Junta names new PM: In a decree announced late last night, the junta appointed former Finance Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine as the transitional prime minister. Zeine is currently the African Development Bank’s country manager for Chad.

Recap: Niger’s military junta seized power in a putsch last month, detained President Mohamed Bazoum and installed General Abdourahamane Tchiani as the country’s new leader. ECOWAS issued an ultimatum — which expired Sunday — threatening the use of military force if Bazoum was not reinstated.

Pressure mounts against military intervention: Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, who is also the current ECOWAS chief, has been the most vocal critic of the coup and is seen as the driving force behind the threat of military action against the junta. But Tinubu is now facing a big backlash at home in Nigeria over his threat of military force, as fears grow of an escalation into a major regional conflict.

Unpopular move: Local media reports Nigeria’s senate opposed sending troops to Niger, and instead advised Tinubu to search for a diplomatic solution. An influential group of Muslim clerics in northern Nigeria also criticized Tinubu’s threat, saying he must not “rush into an avoidable conflict with a neighbour at the behest of global politicking,” the BBC reports.

Regional implications: The risks facing a potential ECOWAS intervention increased after the military juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso vowed to defend Niger’s junta if the regional bloc does indeed use force. So far, ECOWAS has imposed economic sanctions and closed borders with Niger, while Nigeria also cut electricity supplies to the country, causing blackouts.

The West’s response: The EU suspended financial support for Niger; the U.S. has paused some foreign aid, though humanitarian assistance is continuing for now.

Concern for Bazoum: EU countries are increasingly concerned for the safety of Niger’s democratically elected president, with Berlin warning the junta of “sharp personal consequences” should anything happen to Bazoum or his family. “We would perceive that as an escalation, as would our African partners,” a German spokesperson said Monday. Senior U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland said coup leaders refused to allow her to meet with Bazoum on Monday.

MEANWHILE, IN MALI: Troops, including those who are “presumed to be elements of the Wagner Group” of Russian mercenaries, are using “systematic” sexual violence against women and perpetrating other “grave human rights abuses” to spread terror in Mali, United Nations sanctions monitors said in a report to the U.N. Security Council, according to Reuters.


UPDATE FROM MADRID: Spain’s far-right Vox is no longer insisting on a formal coalition to support center-right Popular Party leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo’s quest to form a government. Instead, Vox said it will back a potential minority government led only by the Popular Party, Aitor Hernández-Morales reports.

Doing the math: To form a government, a candidate proposed by Spain’s king must either receive an absolute majority in a first vote in the parliament (at least 176 of the 350 MPs) or a simple majority (more “yeas” than “nays”) in a second vote held 48 hours later.

What it means for Feijóo: The support of Vox’s 33 MPs, plus that of the two parliamentarians representing the conservative Navarrese People’s Union and the Canarian Coalition, would give Feijóo the backing of a total of 172 MPs. But unless he can convince one of the separatist parties to abstain, his candidacy is still set to flounder in the face of the 173 MPs likely to vote against him.

What it means for Sánchez: With the parliament set to reconvene in a bit over a week, the odds still favor incumbent Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. Still, cobbling together the support he needs to remain in office is no easy task, as Aitor explains.

ONLINE DISINFO ABOUT SPANISH ELECTORAL FRAUD: Disinformation seeking to undermine the results of the Spanish election was rife on social media in the month leading up to the vote, according to a report by NGOs shared exclusively with POLITICO’s Clothilde Goujard.

The stats: One in four social media posts containing falsehoods during the electoral campaign sought to delegitimize or sow doubts about the election, such as questioning the veracity of mail-in ballots, according to Spanish fact-checking organization Maldita.es and NGO Democracy Reporting International.

What was analyzed? Maldita.es monitored Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok between June 24 and July 23, collecting over 142,000 posts from 829 unique accounts — nearly 87 percent of those were from Twitter. The posts and videos saw a combined reach of 5.8 billion views across platforms. Of posts with false claims published during the week of the election, 40 percent included disinformation about electoral fraud. That number grew to 74 percent on the day of the vote.

Sustained campaign: “There was a clear, sustained campaign that was growing over time,” said Carlos Hernández-Echevarría, assistant director and head of public policy at Maldita.es. The attacks on this election were “so much stronger” than they have been in the past, he said.

Politicians sowing doubt in the system: The fact-checkers said politicians in major parties including the PP and Vox contributed to the spread of disinformation by re-sharing posts with false details, including a claim implying that the Socialist government engineered a fire in a tunnel to stop voters from getting to polling stations. 

A glimpse of what to expect: Researchers said their analysis of disinformation circulating online was a cautionary tale for upcoming elections. “What we have seen in Spain and what are seeing in other places like in Slovakia shows that we are far away from prepared,” said Hernández-Echevarría. Slovaks will go to the polls for their parliamentary election on September 30, while the European Parliament election is scheduled for June 2024. 

EU regulation: Very large online platforms will soon have to implement measures to limit the spread of falsehoods on their networks under the supervision of the European Commission as the Digital Services Act kicks in at the end of the month.


HITTING RUSSIA WHERE IT HURTS: Kyiv has a message for Moscow: If you won’t let us feed the world, we won’t let you fuel it. Ukraine could target Russian ports and ships on the Black Sea — including oil tankers — as part of its effort to weaken Moscow’s war machine, Oleg Ustenko, an economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told my colleague Gabriel Gavin. The comments come in the wake of two recent attacks on Russian vessels.

On notice: Over the weekend, Ukraine declared the waters around Russia’s Black Sea ports a “war risk area” from August 23. As long as Russians “terrorize peaceful Ukrainian cities and destroy grain condemning hundreds of millions to starvation,” there would be “no more safe waters or peaceful harbors for you in the Black and Azov Seas,” Ukraine’s defense ministry said.

Impact: The warning caused insurance rates for ships to skyrocket and could imperil one of Russia’s main export routes for oil — key in ensuring the Kremlin has enough cash to keep waging war. Read Gabriel’s full story here.

MEANWHILE, IN UKRAINE: Two Russian missile strikes on the city of Pokrovsk in the Donetsk region killed at least eight people and wounded many others. The attack hit the Druzhba Hotel, popular with journalists, and a pizzeria, among other buildings. The BBC has a write-up.

ZELENSKYY ASSASSINATION PLOT FOILED: Ukraine’s security service said Monday it had detained a Russian informant who planned to assassinate Zelenskyy last month. Laura Hülsemann has the write-up.

IT’S A SMALL WORLD (FOR ALLEGED WAR CRIMINALS): Fredrik Wesslau, a board member of The Reckoning Project, has this op-ed on the geopolitical impact of the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

WITH FRIENDS LIKES THESE … North Korean hackers accessed the networks at a major Russian missile developer for months last year, according to a report by SentinelLabs, written up by Reuters.

**Listen in on conversations with global power players with Power Play, a brand-new global podcast by POLITICO. Renowned host Anne McElvoy takes you into the minds of those shifting power, policy and politics across the globe, starting this September. Sign up here to be notified of the first episodes.** 


WHAT WE’RE WATCHING TODAY: Taiwan’s semiconductor manufacturer TSMC is today likely to confirm plans to build a multibillion-euro chips factory in Dresden, Germany’s Handelsblatt reports. The move would boost Germany’s automotive sector and give Europe an advantage in its ongoing trade war with China (backgrounder here). According to Handelsblatt, the German government will provide €5 billion in support for the factory, while TSMC will invest €10 billion in Dresden (up from the original plan of €7 billion).

AMAZON SUMMIT: Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will use a summit that kicks off today to corral countries to speed up efforts to stop deforestation in the rainforest. The two-day regional Amazon Summit comes as the EU rolls out new rules to ban imports driving deforestation abroad, piling pressure on countries to commit to ambitious action at this week’s meet-up. More from Louise Guillot here.

EXTREME WEATHER ALERT: Heavy rainfall continued across Scandinavia on Monday, causing a train to derail in Sweden — AP has a roundup of the wet weather fallout. Meanwhile, hundreds of people were evacuated in Portugal and Sardinia as fires raged.

DRUG-RESISTANT BUGS: New research suggests tiny airborne pollutants may be linked to higher rates of drug-resistant lethal bacteria, Helen Collis reports.


TRAVEL UPDATE 1 — ANOTHER RYANAIR STRIKE: Ryanair pilots based at Charleroi have announced a new strike over pay and conditions, this time for August 14-15. It’s the third strike action in a month. More from Le Soir.

TRAVEL UPDATE 2 — FLIGHTS TO AFRICA DIVERTED: Brussels Airlines has announced that 12 of its flights to destinations in Africa will be diverted to avoid Niger’s airspace, which has been closed to air traffic by the military junta. For passengers, this will mean longer flight times and possible stops for refueling.

PALAIS DE JUSTICE RENOVATION KICKS OFF: The restoration of the front façade of the Palais de Justice, once the world’s largest building, started Monday. The works should take about two years and cost just under €32 million.

What’s changing: The building will undergo a major refurbishment that, along with a façade renovation, includes upgrades to the courtyard, joinery and new lighting around the building. In a subsequent phase, the base of the dome will be restored.

Scaffolding update: “The renovation is on schedule, which means that we will start removing the scaffolding in summer 2024,” according to Koen Peumans, from the Cabinet of Mathieu Michel, who is the state secretary for buildings administration (and the brother of Charles, for those playing along at home). Scaffolding has adorned the building for the past four decades — but if everything goes to plan, the palace should be entirely free of it by 2030, in time for Belgium’s 200th anniversary celebrations.

Should you get your hopes up? It’s not the first time renovations have been announced, and then petered out. But Peumans told Playbook’s Ketrin Jochecová he’s optimistic: “As long as various public contracts are awarded and planning permission approved, there’s no reason to halt the renovation of the façades and replacement of the window frames.”

111 PEOPLE UNDER POLICE PROTECTION IN BELGIUM: Belgium’s National Crisis Center said 111 people, including Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne, Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden and Brussels Mobility Minister Elke Van den Brandt are under police protection. More here.

JEFF GOLDBLUM IN TOWN: Hollywood actor Jeff Goldblum, known for films including Jurassic Park, will perform with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra in Brussels on October 11. Tickets go on sale from 10 a.m. on August 11.

BIRTHDAYS: MEP Thierry Mariani; Former Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, now leader of Italy’s 5Star Movement; POLITICO’s Matthew Karnitschnig and Charlie Cooper; Swiss tennis great Roger Federer; Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

THANKS TO: Clothilde Goujard, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová, editor Jack Lahart and producers Dato Parulava and Seb Starcevic.

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