Niger authorities arrested 618 suspects overnight in raids aimed at curbing a crime wave in the capital, Niamey, state radio announced.
“Operation Punch” took place in neighbourhoods across the city, where residents say serious food shortages, on top of already severe poverty, have led to a spike in crime.
It was not immediately clear if the operation was linked to the weekend wave of arrests of senior officials linked to former President Mamadou Tandja, who was ousted by the army in a coup last month.
“We will identify people and, if there is nothing to charge them with, we will free them, as the law requires,” said one police officer, asking not to be named.
Over the last few weeks, Niamey has seen an increase in armed robberies and carjackings and an increase in the number of suspected robbers lynched by angry crowds.
The coup leaders have promised to hold elections and clean up politics and business, which they say are corrupt and are denying the poor, landlocked state the best use of its meagre resources.
The government and donors are scrambling to prepare for still worse food shortages, which they warn will leave millions hungry and at least 200 000 children with severe malnutrition this year.
Niger exports uranium and has oil and gold reserves but is one of the world’s poorest, least developed nations. Civil rights groups say the new government should review and perhaps renegotiate dozens of resource exploitation contracts.