Police fire bullets to break up Shiite protest in Nigeria

Abuja: Nigerian security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition into the air on Tuesday to disperse Shiite Muslim protesters in the capital Abuja a day after at least eight people were killed in clashes during a similar demonstration.

Scattered groups of supporters of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), a Shia sect, attempted to protest in the centre of the city but some 50 soldiers and police blocked access, an AFP journalist said.

Several people were injured, according to IMN member Mohamed Sodje, but the group has so far made no official statement.

Tensions are high in Abuja after clashes on Monday left at least six protesters dead, as well as a police officer and a journalist, during an IMN march demanding the release of cleric Ibrahim Zakzaky.

Police opened fire with live ammunition as well as tear gas, while protesters threw petrol bombs at the officers.

IMN has said Monday’s death toll was higher — with 11 dead — but accused the police of removing bodies in vehicles.

Amnesty International has condemned the police action as a “reckless use of force”.

Zakzaky, a pro-Iran cleric, has been detained by the authorities since December 2015 on charges including terrorism.

He remains in custody despite a court ordering his release, as the government has filed fresh criminal charges.

President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday offered his condolences to the families of the dead police officer and journalist but did not mention the deaths of Shiite protesters.

The IMN, which emerged as a student movement in the late 1970s, was inspired by the Islamic revolution in Iran.

The sect is met with hostility in Nigeria, whose Muslim population is mainly Sunni.

There have been frequent clashes between the security forces and IMN supporters in recent years.

Zakzaky, who has previously called for an Iranian-style Islamic revolution in secular Nigeria, was detained after violence during a religious procession in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria in December 2015.

Rights groups say some 350 mostly unarmed Shiite marchers were killed by the Nigerian army and buried in mass graves.

The military has denied the claims.