At least two people were killed and 18 injured in western Niger on Saturday when protesters clashed with a French military convoy they blocked after it crossed the border from Burkina Faso, Niger’s government said.
The armoured vehicles and logistics trucks had crossed the border on Friday after being blocked in Burkina Faso for a week by demonstrations there against French forces’ failure to stop mounting violence by Islamist militants.
Anger about France’s military presence in its former colonies has been rising in Niger, Burkina Faso and other countries in West Africa’s Sahel region where France has thousands of troops to fight affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State.
Last weekend, hundreds of people in the Burkinabe city of Kaya blocked the French convoy, which is on its way from Ivory Coast to Mali.
It was able to leave Burkina Faso on Friday but ran into new protests on Saturday morning less than 30 km (19 miles) across the border in the western Niger town of Tera, where it had stopped to spend the night.
“In its attempt to extricate itself, it (the French forces) used force. Sadly, we deplore the death of two people and 18 injuries, 11 of them serious,” Niger’s interior ministry said in a statement.
“An investigation has been opened to determine the exact circumstances of this tragedy and determine responsibility.”
French military spokesperson Colonel Pascal Ianni told Reuters that French soldiers and Nigerian military police had fired warning shots to disperse protesters who were trying to pillage and seize trucks but said he could not confirm or deny the reported casualties.
The convoy was later able to continue on its way towards the capital Niamey, Ianni added.
Video shared by a local official showed the protesters, mostly young men, shouting “Down with France!” as black smoke rose from a burning barricade.
France intervened in Mali in 2013 to beat back militants who had seized the desert north, before deploying soldiers across the Sahel. While it has killed many top jihadist leaders, violence has continued to intensify and spread in the region.
In remarks broadcast on national television on Friday, Nigerian President Mohamed Bazoum defended the French presence in the Sahel, saying its departure would lead to “chaos.”