Police forces in Niger clashed with hundreds of opposition supporters at a political rally in the West African nation’s capital of Niamey Sunday, breaking up the crowd with tear gas, the Associated Press reported. Authorities had banned the demonstration because of heightened tensions in the country after two days of protests against the French weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The demonstration Sunday was not connected to a wave of protests against the magazine’s latest cover, which has sparked anger across Niger for its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, as reported by the U.S.-funded Voice of America. The march, scheduled before the shooting at Charlie Hebdo’s Paris office Jan. 7, was aimed at denouncing poor governance and the treatment of opposition parties in the country.
Authorities with the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism told protesters they were banned from conducting the rally Friday after violence spiked in demonstrations against Charlie Hebdo, culminating in 10 deaths over two days. Five died Saturday after protesters in Niamey set bars and churches on fire, killing people inside. And five were killed Friday in the city of Zinder in the midst of protests after Muslim prayer services.
The opposition coalition group ARDR, organizer of the march Sunday, announced Saturday it would proceed with its planned event despite the ban. “We inform all our militants and sympathizers that the march followed by a rally planned for Sunday will go ahead,” the coalition said in a statement.
Tensions between the government and the opposition have risen since 2013 when Hama Amadou, then the speaker of Niger’s parliament and an ally of President Mahamadou Issoufou, fell out with the ruling coalition. Amadou was accused of participating in a baby-trafficking ring along with several other senior political figures, according to BBC News.
Amadou, who had been considered a potential presidential candidate before the allegations, denied the charges and fled the country in August. Niger opposition parties have said the investigation against him and 17 others is politically motivated.