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Hundreds march in Niger calling for Arabs expulsion

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Oct 28, 2006 (NIAMEY) — Hundreds of people took to the streets in southeastern Niger on Saturday to protest against the government’s decision to halt the deportation of thousands of Mahamid Arabs back to Chad.

Niger’s cabinet on Friday announced it was suspending the deportation of the nomadic Arabs, who fled warfare and drought in neighbouring Chad during the 1980s, and taking a month to find alternative measures to defuse tensions in the southeast region of Diffa.

Local communities accuse the Mahamid Arabs of harassing them with illegal firearms and depleting local supplies of water and pasture land with their livestock.

The march through the streets of the regional capital Diffa was intended to urge Niamey to press ahead with the deportation of the Arabs as the only way to solve environmental and security problems, according to a statement read on local radio Anfani.

Hundreds of people attended the march but there was no violence, eyewitnesses told Reuters.

The government estimates only around 3,000 Mahamid Arabs live without residence papers in Niger. But community leaders say the nomads numbers tens of thousands and local government officials put the figure as high as 150,000.

The cabinet on Friday created a special commission, including officials from the ministries of environment, animal resources and interior, to consider the alternatives to expelling the nomads.

The Mahamid, meanwhile, would be free to take their livestock to all of Niger’s grazing regions, including Zinder and Agadez, the government said.

The expulsion plan provoked alarm among the country’s broader Arab community. But Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja’s government insisted the aim was simply to tackle illegal immigration and it denied Arabs were being ethnically targeted.

Communication Minister Oumarou Hadari told Reuters on Friday that certain neighbouring countries, which he did not name, had intervened to ask that the expulsions should not go ahead.

Hundreds of thousands of Niger citizens live in other states throughout the region, many in Arab countries such as Algeria, Libya or Sudan.

(Reuters)

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