NIAMEY, Jan 17 (Reuters) – Stone-throwing demonstrators set fire to two churches in Niger’s capital Niamey on Saturday, in the latest protest in France’s former African colonies at French newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.
A day after five people were killed in Niger in protests over the cartoons, protesters in Niamey attacked a police station and burned at least two police cars near the main mosque after authorities banned a meeting called by local Muslim leaders. Police responded with teargas.
“They offended our Prophet Mohammed. That’s what we didn’t like,” said Amadou Abdoul Ouahab, who took part in the demonstration. “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.”
Demonstrations were also reported in regional towns, including Maradi, 600 km (375 miles) east of Niamey, where two churches were burned. Another church and a residence of the foreign minister were burned in the eastern town of Goure.
A picture taken on January 17, 2015 shows a church which was damaged after it was set on fire by protesters during a demonstration against Charlie Hebdo in Niamey, Jan. 17, 2015. (BOUREIMA HAMA/AFP/Getty Images)
Four Muslim preachers who had convened the meeting in Niamey were arrested, police sources said. Protesters burned the French flag and set up roadblocks on streets in the town center but no casualties were reported on Saturday.
The French embassy in Niamey warned its citizens not to go out on the streets.
The death toll from Friday’s clashes in Niger’s second largest city of Zinder, rose to five after emergency services discovered a burned body inside a Catholic Church.
On Friday, churches were burned, Christian homes looted and the French cultural center attacked during the violence in Zinder, residents said.
A police officer and three civilians had already been confirmed killed in the demonstrations against the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, police sources said.
Peaceful marches took place after Friday prayers in the capital cities of other West African countries – Mali, Senegal and Mauritania – and Algeria in North Africa, all former French colonies.
In Algiers, several police were injured in clashes with protesters angered by the cartoons. (Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaki; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Rosalind Russell)