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Niger Anti-Tax Movement Calls New Protest

Leaders of a movement against a new tax in Niger have called for a stay-home strike Tuesday, following a ban on public demonstrations. The government's decision to impose a value-added tax on essential goods sparked protests last week, which led to violence and arrests.

A representative of the Coalition Against Costly Living, the group organizing the protests, says the government's ban on new demonstrations is illegal. Marou Amadou says the group planned to call a demonstration similar to the one held last week, but will instead declare a nationwide stay-at-home strike.

"It's against our constitution," he said. "It's against the laws of Niger. In Niger, we are in a process of decentralization, which commands that authorities of the state of Niger cannot take decisions against manifestations [demonstrations]. So, we will call all citizens of Niger that they must stay home."

A demonstration last Tuesday against the government's decision to impose a 19 percent value-added tax on essential goods drew thousands to the streets of the capital, Niamey. Protesters chanted slogans against the government, saying politicians were betraying recent campaign promises to fight poverty.

Dozens of people were later arrested. And the government quickly banned future protests in the capital.

Organizers say the new tax has caused a price hike that is putting essential goods, like water and cooking oil out of the reach of most people in Niger.

Niger's government says the new tax is meant to conform to demands of the International Monetary Fund and regional banks to better attract aid and investment.

West Africa economics and political analyst Olly Owen says, although other countries in the region have imposed similar taxes, Niger stands out, because the change is being carried out much more drastically.

"It's on the larger side. And I think they've basically got over-enthusiastic in trying to impose it in one fell swoop," said Mr. Owen. "As I say, also the range of things they've imposed it on is unusually large. And, I think it's kind of a reflection of the external orientation of the Niger government, in [that] it's trying to, basically, cooperate with economic reforms, and the multi-laterals is the only game in town, as far as its economy is concerned. So, they're more externally orientated, more keen to please donors than they are to respond to internal protests."

Opposition activist Mohammed Bazoum says Nigeriens would be less hostile to the new tax, if they knew where the money was going.

"The problem is not to raise the taxes,"he said. "The problem is what the government does with the new taxes. This is the question. And people believe that they won't do things that will provide to the population. These tax raises will provide to the government only. And it is the reason of this defiance of the people."

The country's main export, uranium, is subject to market fluctuations, and has been bringing in less and less revenue. And locust infestations have crippled agriculture for the last two years.

Eighty-five percent of Niger's 11 million people live on less than two dollars a day.