Niger: Thousands Protest Caricature Of Prophet Muhammad

Thousands of Muslims took to the streets of the capital of Niger this week as protests against the publication of controversial cartoon images of the Prophet Muhammad reached West Africa. Organisers said 50,000 people had turned out Tuesday in the dusty streets of Niamey after a call from religious leaders to press the government to cut diplomatic relations with Denmark, where the caricatures were originally published. An IRIN correspondent estimated the turnout at 10,000. Muslim rage has swept Europe and the Middle East after the publication of the caricatures, some showing the prophet wearing a turban resembling a bomb. And Niger’s Muslim leaders dubbed Denmark “an enemy of Islam.” “The amalgam knowingly maintained between Islam and terrorism is simply coarse and unacceptable,” said protester Elhaj Tahir Ousmane. “The provocation was too much, it is necessary to put an end to it by all means.” In northern Nigeria, where some states have adopted Islamic Sharia law, protestors took to the streets on Monday chanting “Allahu Akbar [God is great]” and burning the Danish flag. The caricatures, first published in September, angered Muslims in part because Islam bars any depiction of the image of the Prophet Muhammad. And many Muslims have called for boycotts of Danish goods, or held protests outside Danish facilities. In Niger, security forces looked on as Tuesday’s demonstrations passed off without violence. Ranked by the UN as the world’s poorest country, Niger is 98 percent Muslim and most Nigeriens practice a moderate form of Islam, often infusing local cultural practices into their worship. But in recent years, Nigeriens have become increasingly aware of a rise in fundamentalism, particularly in the east of the country bordering northern Nigeria. The United States military has chosen Niger as one of a handful of countries on the fringes of the Sahara desert for a half-billion-dollar programme for training security personnel in tackling terrorism.