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Thousands in Niger Demand Abolition of Tax

In Niger, consumer and anti-poverty groups demonstrated again Saturday to demand the abolition of a value-added tax on basic goods and services. Neither the government nor protest leaders are making progress toward resolving the crisis.

Several thousand people marched through the streets of Niger's capital, Niamey, toward parliament, protesting a tax that has increased the price of staples like milk, rice and sugar by 19 percent.

The protesters loudly denounced the supporters of the tax in government, whom they called "enemies of the people."

Saturday's march was the first to be held in the capital since the government banned street protests after demonstrations in March ended in violence.

Police were deployed on main roads to oversee marchers. In the northern town of Agadez, several protesters were reportedly injured when they clashed with police, but in Niamey, the protest went ahead without problems.

One of the protesters at the march in the capital said that the tax is not legitimate, because people can no longer afford to live.

He said that the tax law must be abolished.

The leader of a group called the coalition for Quality and Fairness Against Costly Living, Nouhou Arzika, who was recently released from jail along with five other protest leaders, has helped lead a series of strikes and protests across Niger in the past month.

Mr. Arzika says that, if the government needs more funds, it should spend less and save money, and not impose the tax on the people. Eighty five percent of Nigeriens live on less than $2 a day.

A government spokesperson, Ben Omar Mohammed, says the government needs to raise money, in order to live up to the demands of the International Monetary Fund and regional banks.

Mr. Mohammed says that negotiations with the anti-tax movement's leaders began late Friday. But, he says, Niger's civil society continues to maintain an extreme position in demanding that the tax law be entirely abolished.

The tax has come at a particularly difficult time, when low rainfall and locust infestations have meant poor harvests for Nigeriens. The government estimates that over 3.5 million people could suffer food shortages in the coming year.