“The toll sadly is high: we have 23 injured policemen, four of them seriously hurt. Fourteen vehicles have been destroyed, 10 of them police vehicles,” Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum said on television on Sunday.
The police commissariat at the Habou Bene market, the country’s biggest trading spot, was torched and the front of the building housing the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), Niger’s voting watchdog, was vandalised, private television reported.
“All those who bear responsibility for these events… will respond for… their acts,” Bazoum said.
Local civil society organisations have for weeks been denouncing the 2018 budget for imposing austerity on one of the poorest countries on the planet.
Bazoum said a civilian group called Actice — the Association for the Defence of the Rights of Consumers of Information Technology, Communication and Energy — which had received the authorisation to demonstration on Sunday was being dissolved.
More than 1,000 demonstrators rallied near the city centre to protest against the government’s financial plan that they branded “anti-social” and said created new taxes.
– ‘Tempted’ by insurrection? –
Violence broke out as a group of protestors tried to head to a square opposite parliament that is a traditional rallying point — a destination banned under the authorisation — and police fired teargas to try to stop them.
Bazoum accused the Nigerien Democratic Movement, or Modem, of being behind the protests and of being “tempted” by the “insurrectional model” in neighbouring Burkina Faso to gain power.
A popular uprising unseated Burkina Faso’s then-president Blaise Compaore in 2014, after he tried to extend his 27-year grip on power. It was followed by a general election in 2015 that was largely seen as democratic.
Bazoum said that “identified militants” based in the United States and Europe had used live streaming on social networks to encourage the violence, including “entering the National Assembly to set fire to it.”
Modem is a party run by former prime minister Hama Amadou, who lives in exile.
More than 80 percent of Niger is covered by the Sahara desert. Its economy has been affected by falls in both oil prices, which it officially began exporting in 2011, and uranium, of which it is a major exporter.
The country also has to spend resources to combat attacks by Boko Haram, whose Islamist insurgency has spilled over from Nigeria, as well as from jihadists, including the Islamic State group, near the border with Mali.