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Escaping Niger: Northeastern professor describes his experience being caught in the middle of a military coup in West Africa

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PARIS, FRANCE - AUGUST 2: People arrive from Niger and other destinations at Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy-en-France, near Paris, on August 2, 2023. The three planes carrying mostly French and European people evacuated from Niger landed in Paris early Wednesday, a week after a coup toppled one of the last pro-Western leaders. (Photo by Mohamad Salaheldin Abdelg Alsayed/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A representative of the U.S. Embassy in France, left, speaks with William Miles, professor of political science at Northeastern University.

A Northeastern University professor who found himself in the middle of a military coup in Niger last week says evacuation from the turmoil was “serious business.” Traveling to Niger for research this summer, William Miles, professor of political science, couldn’t have imagined that his trip back to the United States would look like scenes from an action movie.

Miles, who spent about a month in Niger on a grant from the American Philosophical Society, was preparing to leave the country’s capital when mutinous soldiers seized power on July 26 from the democratically elected president, suspended the constitution, locked down the borders and closed the airport.  

He, his colleague Scott Youngstedt, professor of anthropology at Saginaw Valley State University, and his friend Avraham ben Avraham, a journalist and an Igbo member of the Jewish community in Nigeria, sheltered in place in a rented house in the center of Niamey. Less than 2 miles away, protesters supporting the coup set on fire the headquarters of the ruling party and attacked the French Embassy, setting a door ablaze and ripping a plaque from the building. 

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