Niger police fire tear gas to disperse opposition demo

SHAFAQNA – Police in Niger fired tear gas Sunday to break up a banned opposition demonstration in the capital Niamey, a day after deadly riots over the publication by France’s Charlie Hebdo magazine of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

Around 300 demonstrators had gathered at a central square for a long-planned march on parliament.

Scattered by the tear gas, they regrouped, throwing stones at the police and burning tyres, an AFP correspondent reported.

Seven protestors, including a former minister, were arrested, a police source said.

Security around the parliament building was also beefed up.

The opposition alliance behind the rally had announced Saturday it would press ahead with the march, despite the authorities banning it over security concerns.

Soumana Sanda, one of the protest organisers, said the march was called to condemn “the crushing of opposition parties” and “bad governance”.

The crackdown reflected the climate of tension in the west African country after two days of violence over the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo — the Paris-based satirical weekly where 12 people were shot dead on January 7 by Islamist radicals out to avenge previous publications of Mohammed cartoons.

On Saturday, five people were killed in Niamey after protesters demonstrating over the cover of the magazine’s January 14 “survivors issue” went on the rampage, setting fire to at least eight churches.

Bars, hotels and various businesses owned by non-Muslims or with connections to France were also targeted.

On Friday, five people were killed and 45 injured in similar protests in Niger’s second city of Zinder.

President Mahamadou Issoufou appealed for calm on Saturday, saying “those who loot these places of worship, who desecrate them and kill their Christian compatriots… have understood nothing of Islam”.

Former colonial power France, which has defended Charlie Hebdo’s freedom of expression, also condemned the violence.

The riots had abated by Saturday evening, with police deployed to protect the main cathedral in Niamey and other religious buildings.

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