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Churches torched as Niger's anti-Charlie Hebdo protest escalates

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Residents watch a ransacked church that burned after thousands of protesters gathered following Friday prayers to vent anger at the depiction of the prophet in the publication of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed in the latest edition of the French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, on January 16, 2015 in Zinder.

Police fired tear gas as hundreds of Niger Muslims came out to yet again protest Charlie Hebdo’s satirical cartoons targeting Islam. Several Christian churches have been set on fire by rioting crowds in Niger, as the world sees a second day of rallies.

Niger, a former French colony, has been gripped by Charlie Hebdo-fueled violence since Friday, when a protest rally in front of a French cultural center led to deadly clashes in which three protesters and a police officer were killed.

On Saturday, Niger police again used tear gas against at least 1,000 aggressive young demonstrators in the capital, Niamey, who burned tires and pelted the security troops with stones. At least two police cars were burned out as the angry crowd retaliated against a decision to ban a march organized by local Muslim leaders.

Elsewhere in the country, at least seven Christian churches were set on fire and ransacked, AFP reported, as religious-linked conflict escalates in the country.

Yemen on Saturday also saw renewed demonstrations against the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

Meanwhile, in Russia’s predominantly Muslim republic of Ingushetia, some 10,000 people showed up to denounce both extremists hijacking Islam to spread a message of hatred and violence and those in the west who equate deliberate insulting of Muslims’ faith with defending freedom of speech.

The protests on Friday after Muslim prayers were held across the Muslim word, with mostly peaceful rallies reported in Algeria, Syria, India and The Philippines. In Jordan there were clashes with police as demonstrators tried to march to the French embassy, while in Pakistan’s Karachi police used tear gas to disperse a crowd of some 200 people.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande defended the pro-Charlie Hebdo drive in the wake of the deadly assault on the satirical weekly last week, saying it was part of defending freedom of expression, an essential western value.

“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,” Hollande said of the anti-Charlie Hebdo rallies.

The latest issue of Charlie Hebdo saw a surge of sales in the wake of the tragedy. Surviving journalists initially expected a million of copies to be sold, but now the issue is aiming at a target of 7 million copies, a far cry from the usual circulation enjoyed by the fringe publication.

The issue features Islam’s Prophet Muhammad holding a placard reading “Je suis Charlie” and the headline, “All is forgiven.” Depicting images of Mohammed is forbidden in Islam and is considered a grave offense.

Last week, three Islamist gunmen went on a rampage in Paris, starting with the killings at Charlie Hebdo and continuing with a hostage-taking at a kosher store. The attacks claimed 17 lives.— Output – Tim Wall, Today 16:45


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