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Niger Government Yields to Anti-Tax Movement

Niger's government has backed down on key elements of a new tax on essential goods. The move follows days of negotiations with members of a popular movement that has been fighting the new measure with strikes and street protests for more than a month.

Nigerien National Assembly member, Sanoussi Jackou reads out the decisions taken during four days of talks between the government, political parties, civil society, and the anti-tax movement known as the Coalition for Quality and Fairness Against Costly Living.

The special committee's decisions call for the repeal of the tax on milk and flour.

Minimum consumption levels must now be reached before water and electricity are taxable. All of these had been subject to a value added tax imposed by Niger's government earlier this year. A tax on sugar will remain

Consumer advocacy groups denounced the tax, which the newly elected government said put Niger in line with the demands of the International Monetary Fund and regional banks. Coalition leaders said the tax, which adds 19-percent to the price many essential goods, was making life unbearable in Niger, where the average annual income is just $200.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital Niamey last month, demanding its repeal. Authorities quickly banned demonstrations there. Coalition leaders fought back with stay at home strikes, and a nationwide call to prayer that landed several of them in jail.

But under continued pressure from civil society groups, the government of President Mamadou Tandja eventually backed down, releasing the men, and calling for roundtable discussions.

Many of the movement's supporters, like opposition activist Mahamadou Karidgo, see the decision to repeal the tax as a victory.

Mr. Karidgo says he thinks the decision is good news. The government doesn't usually listen to the people, he says. This time it did.

But, he says, this shouldn't be the end of the struggle.

The people of Niger have now fought against one of their problems, he says. The problems of stagnant salaries, education, healthcare, and justice still remain, and he says, the people must continue to fight against those.

Members all parties of Niger's national assembly signed the agreement Tuesday. But the decisions of the committee must now be ratified by parliament.