Anti-Charlie Hebdo rioters torch churches in Niger
Rioters torched at least eight churches in Niamey on Saturday in a second day of violent protests in Niger over the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed on the cover of France's Charlie Hebdo weekly.
Bars, hotels and various businesses under non-Muslim ownership or bearing signs of French companies in Niger's capital were also targeted, an AFP correspondent reported.
"Some of us stayed barricaded in our homes. I have never been so scared in my life," a Christian mechanic told AFP.
"The government must put a stop to this," he added. "It doesn't look good for us."
By Saturday evening calm returned to Niamey, where police were stationed outside the city's cathedral and other religious buildings, the AFP correspondent said.
On Friday, the angry protests in this predominantly Muslim country over the Mohammed cartoon left four people dead and around 45 injured in Niger's second city of Zinder.
Around 255 Christians were placed under military protection in Zinder on Saturday, sheltered in barracks, a Western security source said. Another 70 had sought refuge in an evangelical church protected by police, two of the Christians there told AFP.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, whose country has defended the Charlie Hebdo cover as freedom of expression, condemned "the use of violence, today in Niamey and yesterday in Zinder".
About six groups of 200 to 300 protesters went on rampage through Niamey on Saturday, a security source said.
"As soon as the protesters started toward the grand mosque we knew this was coming," said Kiema Soumaila, manager of the Toulousain, a well-known bar in Niamey.
"They burned everything after smashing anything that was glass on the road," Soumaila added.
Muslim elder Yaou Sonna, speaking on behalf of around 20 of his peers, called for restraint, saying on state television: "Don't forget that Islam is against violence. I urge men and women, boys and girls to calm down."
Earlier in the day around 100 helmeted riot police stood in front of the Niamey cathedral to protect it from a crowd of stone-throwing youths.
Police used tear gas to disperse another crowd of about 1,000 young people massed in front of Niamey's grand mosque who were armed with iron bars and clubs.
France's embassy in its poverty-stricken former colony warned French citizens to stay indoors after rioters ransacked several French-linked businesses, including telephone kiosks run by Orange.
The satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo has repeatedly published cartoons of Mohammed over the years and its latest issue, released on Wednesday, features a cartoon of Mohammed on its cover holding a "Je Suis Charlie" (I Am Charlie) sign under the headline "All Is Forgiven".
It was published a week after attacks by three Islamists on the weekly's offices, a kosher supermarket and a policewoman left 17 people dead in and around Paris over three days, deeply shocking the country and sparking an outpouring of international support.
Many Muslims see any depiction of Islam's prophet as offensive, while many Western governments have defended Charlie Hebdo's right to freedom of expression.
© 2015 AFP