NIAMEY, Aug 19 (Reuters) – Supporters of Niger’s junta were forced on Saturday to halt a census of people willing to volunteer for non-military roles in defence against a possible intervention by West African powers, saying they had been overwhelmed by the numbers who turned up.

Thousands of mostly young men had massed outside a stadium in the capital Niamey hours before the scheduled start-time of the event – a sign of the strong support in some quarters for the junta, which has defied international pressure to stand down after the July 26 ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum.

«In all our calculations and our understandings, we never thought we could mobilize (this number of people),» said Younoussa Hima, co-organiser of the initiative dubbed «The Mobilisation of Young People for the Fatherland.»

«So it is really difficult for us today to do this work. That is what made us halt this census,» Hima said by the stadium after the crowds dispersed.

West Africa’s main regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), on Friday said it had agreed an undisclosed «D-Day» for a possible military intervention if diplomatic efforts fail – an escalation that could further destabilise a conflict-torn and impoverished region.

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