At least five people in Niger’s capital Niamey have been killed in protests against French newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, AFP news agency reported, quoting the country’s President Mahamadou Issoufou.
“In Niamey, the tally is five dead, all civilians,” said Issoufou. He added that the toll from protests in Niger’s second city of Zinder a day earlier had climbed from four to five dead, AFP reported.
The deaths brought the death toll from two days of violence in the West African country to eleven in total.
Police fired teargas at crowds of stone-throwing youths who set fire to at least six churches and looted shops in Niamey on Saturday after authorities banned a meeting called by local Islamic leaders. A police station was attacked and at least two police cars burned.
Police sources told Reuters that two charred bodies were found inside a burned church on the outskirts of Niamey, while the body of a woman was found in a bar. She was believed to have been suffocated by teargas and smoke, they said.
“They offended our Prophet Muhammad. That’s what we didn’t like,” protester Amadou Abdoul Ouahab said.
“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.”
In a warning to French citizens in Niger, the French embassy said on its website: “Be very cautious, avoid going out.”
Demonstrations were also reported in regional towns, including Maradi, 600km 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.
On Friday, a police officer and three civilians were killed in demonstrations against Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons in Niger’s second largest city of Zinder.
The death toll from Friday’s clashes rose to five on Saturday after emergency services discovered a burned body inside a Catholic Church, Reuters reported.
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, which are all also former French colonies.
Thousands of Muslims demonstrated across the world on Friday, venting fury over the new Prophet Muhammad cartoon that Charlie Hebdo published in the wake of attacks on its offices and elsewhere in Paris last week.
Many Muslims see any depiction of Islam’s prophet as offensive, while many Western governments support Charlie Hebdo’s position that publishing the cartoons is an exercise in freedom of expression.