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Niger: Christians fear church attacks following lockdown riots

by Heather Preston
NIGER ACN.jpg - Banner image
ACN

Christians in Niger are fearful they could be targeted by Muslim extremists following violent protests against the country's ban on places of worship due to coronavirus.

In 2015 at least five people were killed when churches in Niger were torched during riots over the French magazine Charlie Hebdo's depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.

Some Christians fear a similar response could occur after the government's recent decision to prohibit all forms of public worship.

Speaking to Catholic aid agency Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a source in Zinder - Niger's third largest city, said that rioting had followed the 12th April lockdown announcement.

"There were disturbances, first of all around 10 miles from the town of Zinder, and then in the town itself. The city was overwhelmed with the smell of burning tyres and teargas," the source said.

ACN was told that swift action by the authorities last month prevented a repeat of the targeting of churches seen during the last riots.

Bishop Ambroise Ouédraogo of Maradi told ACN that he thought Christians would not be targeted as part of the new protests: "The situation with the coronavirus is different from the Charlie Hebdo incident, because this is neither a religious nor a political conflict."

He added: "We have to be on our guard, nonetheless, as the reactions of the fundamentalist Muslim extremists are unpredictable."

To date there are 728 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Niger, with 33 people dying from the disease. 478 have recovered. 

However, there are concerns that these figures may underestimate the extent of covid 19's spread, as the healthcare system does not have the capacity to measure accurately how many people have the virus.

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