'Two churches burned in Niger as Charlie Hebdo protests rage'

At least two churches were torched in Niger's capital today as protests raged on against the publication of a Prophet Mohammed cartoon - considered as un-Islamic by Muslims - by a French weekly Charlie Hebdo.

AFP| Updated: Jan 17, 2015, 20:16 PM IST

Niamey: At least two churches were torched in Niger's capital today as protests raged on against the publication of a Prophet Mohammed cartoon - considered as un-Islamic by Muslims - by a French weekly Charlie Hebdo.

Around 100 helmeted riot police stood in front of the Niamey cathedral at midday, protecting it from a crowd of stone-throwing youths, an AFP correspondent on the scene reported.

Earlier, police fired tear gas to disperse some 1,000 youths in front of the city's grand mosque and AFP witnessed protesters in several parts of the city armed with iron bars and clubs.

France's embassy in Niamey warned French citizens to stay indoors after rioters also ransacked several French-linked businesses, including telephone kiosks run by Orange.

"Be very cautious, avoid going out," the embassy said on its website.

Today's protest came a day after a policeman and three civilians were killed and 45 injured in protests against Charlie Hebdo in Niger's second city of Zinder, which saw three churches ransacked and the French cultural centre burned down.

Thousands of Muslims demonstrated across the world yesterday, venting fury over the new Prophet Mohammed cartoon - considered as un-Islamic by Muslims - that Charlie Hebdo published in the wake of Islamist attacks on its offices and elsewhere in Paris last week.

Many Muslims see any such depiction as offensive, while many Western governments support Charlie Hebdo's position that publishing the cartoons is an exercise in freedom of expression.

French President Francois Hollande today stressed that the country had "principles, values, notably freedom of expression".