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Charlie Hebdo shooting Scores of churches burnt as Bishops suspend Catholic masses in Niger

At least 10 people have been killed with demonstrators setting fire to churches, Christian schools and shops.

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A man holds a sign during a protest against Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou's attendance last week at a Paris rally in support of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which featured a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad as the cover of its first edition since an attack by Islamist gunmen, in Niamey January 17, 2015 play

A man holds a sign during a protest against Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou's attendance last week at a Paris rally in support of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which featured a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad as the cover of its first edition since an attack by Islamist gunmen, in Niamey January 17, 2015

(Reuters/Tagaza Djibo)

Catholic masses and church activities in Niger have been cancelled due to prolonged protests triggered by the Charlie Hebdo magazine cover of crying Muhammad.

According to Catholic News Agency, the bishops of Niger have been forced to suspend activities at Catholic schools, health care facilities and charities.

Dozens of churches have been the subject of arson attacks following the publication of cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad in satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

At least 10 people have been killed.

The violence erupted in the city of Zinder, Niger's second largest city, last week. It then spread throughout other regions, with demonstrators setting fire to churches, Christian schools and shops.

"They offended our Prophet Mohammad, that's what we didn't like," said Amadou Abdoul Ouahab, who took part in the demonstrations in Niger's capital, Niamey.

Archbishop Michel Cartateguy of Niamey told Vatican Radio that Christians in Niger are "in a state of shock". Almost all of the churches in his diocese have been "completely plundered," he said.

"Nothing remains, they were totally burned. Only the cathedral is still standing."

The Archbishop added that he doesn't understand why Christians in particular are being targeted by the Muslim protestors, though he suspects that those perpetuating the violence "are being manipulated from abroad".

"It's obvious that the millions of copies of the Mohammed cartoons being distributed are saying to the people here that the Christians of the West are the ones who have done this!" he said.

"But why keep going down this road? Where is the respect for the faith of others?"

Bishops Laurent Lompo, Ambroise Quedraogo and Michel Cartateguy have released a statement concerning the attacks.

They explained that the suspension of activities will give space for increased prayer, and allow the Christian community to reflect on "the painful events" of the past few days.

"We cordially thank all those who have expressed their solidarity at this difficult time," the bishops said.

Pope Francis earlier this week condemned the violence in Niger. "One cannot make war in God's name," he said during his weekly audience in St Peter's Square on Wednesday.

"Religious sentiments are never an occasion for violence, oppression and destruction," the pope added, calling for prayer for "reconciliation and peace" and a "climate of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence for the good of all."

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