Niger rioters burn churches and attack French firms in anti-Charlie protests
Five people were killed in Niger this weekend in riots that saw churches burned and the homes and businesses of Christians looted.
In a backlash against the most recent edition of Charlie Hebdo, which depicts Prophet Mohamed, hundreds of aggrieved Muslims took to the streets wielding axes and iron bars for a second day on Saturday.
In Niamey, the nation’s capital, one police officer was killed along with four civilians, one of whom was burned alive inside one of the eight churches that were set alight.
Demonstrators also attacked a police station and a French cultural centre and set fire to several cars.
Burning a French flag as they marched through the streets of the capital, rioters claimed to be sending a message to the state of Niger.
Rioter Amadou Abdoul Ouahab protested: “They offended our prophet Mohamed. That’s what we didn’t like.”
Ouahab continued: “This is the reason why we have asked Muslims to come, so that we can explain this to them, but the state refused. That’s why we’re angry today.”
The protests were sparked by the arrests of four preachers who had called for meetings within Muslim communities in Niamey in response to Charlie Hebdo’s publication.
Violent outcry regarding the edition was not restricted to Niger; similar demonstrations took place in the capital cities of Senegal, Mali, Mauritania and Algeria, where several police forces were injured in clashes with protestors.
In Karachi, Pakistan, police used tear gas and water cannons to subdue rioters.
French president, Francois Hollande, claims violent backlash is due to a lack of understanding of France’s commitment to freedom of expression.
Hollande noted: “There are tensions abroad where people don’t understand our attachment to the freedom of speech. We’ve seen the protests, and I would say that in France all beliefs are respected.”
The controversial edition of Charlie Hebdo is the first since the massacre in Paris last week and brandishes a depiction of Prophet Mohamed weeping and holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign beneath the words: “Tout est pardonné” (“All is forgiven”).
The edition sold out within minutes on Wednesday, prompting its print run to be increased to five million copies.
Thomas Rhys Jones