45 Churches in Niger Burned by Protesters of New Hebdo Cover

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Protesters in Niger angry over the new Charlie Hebdo magazine cover burned at least 45 churches since Friday prayers.  Ten people have died in the violent demonstrations and more than 170 have been injured.

The bodies of those killed were mainly found inside burned churches and bars.

The first edition of the French satirical magazine since Islamist gunmen slaughtered nine of its journalists as well as two police security guards and a janitor, featured a picture of Mohammed, the founder and prophet of Islam, holding a sign saying, “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) with the words “All is forgiven” written over his head.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo was in retaliation for the magazine’s publication of cartoons of Mohammed. The slogan “Je suis Charlie” has become the calling card of world-wide of solidarity with the magazine and the right to free speech.

Islamist protesters in Niger carried signs reading “I am not Charlie.” In addition to burning churches and bars, rioters ransacked French-owned firms as well as Christian-owned businesses and offices. After police banned a gathering called by Islamic leaders and arrested four imams, the protesters turned on the police, attacking a police station and burning police cars.

Speaking to the AFP, Kiema Soumaila, the manager of a bar in Niger's capital city Niamey, said, “As soon as the protesters started towards the grand mosque we knew this was coming. They burned everything after smashing anything that was glass on the road.”

Bibles were also ripped apart in the protests.

A Christian mechanic said, “Some of us stayed barricaded in our homes. I have never been so scared in my life.”

Protesters in Niamey also burned the French flag, prompting the French embassy to tell French citizens to not venture outside.

Commenting on the violence, France’s President François Hollande said, “I’m thinking of countries where sometimes they don’t understand what freedom of expression is because they have been deprived of it. But also, we have supported these countries in their fight against terrorism.” 

Niger is located between Mali and Chad on the west and east, with Nigeria to the south. The landlocked country was a French colony from 1922 until it won its independence in 1960.

Protests over the magazine’s cover raged across the Muslim world, from Pakistan — where a photographer was shot — to Algeria, where more than a thousand protesters chanted, “I am not Charlie, I am Mohammed.”

In Jordan, thousands of protesters clashed with police in Amman. Peaceful protests were held in Sudan, the North Caucasus region in Russia, Mali, Senegal and Mauritania.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org