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Lagos Residents barricade roads and clash with security forces in protest over weekend deaths of protesters and police officers
A demonstration for victims of an attack on protesters in Lagos has spiralled into violence with scuffles between protesters and police, and reports of injuries.
The protest came as a French government spokesman said the country has sent armoured personnel carriers and more troops to the West African state.
Scores of protesting students and citizens in solidarity with the victims poured onto the streets of Lagos on Saturday, blocking roads with burning tyres and blocking traffic.
Hundreds of other protesters blocked access to the toll gates on Lekki – the peninsula in Lagos that serves as the commercial hub of the state and a favoured holiday destination among tourists.
A standoff developed with riot police who tried to enforce the toll gates, leading to a riot.
“The whole of Lagos was made to be paralysed,” said a student protester, Edward Oputa, at the toll gate on Saturday.
Video published by a local publication, Premium Times, showed a police officer firing at protesters.
Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city and a financial capital, has become increasingly tense amid clashes between security forces and protesters enraged by last week’s shootings on Lekki, on an island that largely avoids traffic congestion.
Thousands of motorists blocked access to the tolls last week as they sought to get to popular beach resorts but were stopped by police and soldiers. One woman was killed and scores of others were injured.
Nigeria’s police, many of whom remain unhappy with their remuneration, said that they were protecting people from marauding gunmen intent on attacking the toll gates.
“On Saturday, sometime at around 6pm, many protesters began to obstruct road users at a toll gate in Lekki area of Lagos. This was to endanger lives and property of motorists,” the police force said in a statement.
“Members of the police services deployed to help the road users in order to maintain law and order in the area disarmed some of the protesters, and arrested some of them.
“The Lagos state police command urges the public to avoid any act that could cause breakdown of law and order, and treat law enforcement agents with utmost respect.”
Demonstrators including Lagos residents, tourists and Chinese and South Korean workers were injured in the clashes, a resident told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
He said some protesters started hurling stones at the riot police, and that they responded with teargas.
“When we started seeing people coming running, we also got injured,” the resident said.
Residents who barricaded roads claimed the barricades were in solidarity with three students and a policeman who were killed on Lekki.
“The group was injured in their legs and had already been discharged from the hospital when the security people arrived and attacked them,” the resident said.
At least 50 people were injured during the violence. At least one of the attackers was also seriously injured, a police source said.
The Lagos police commissioner, Imohimi Edgal, said last week that the protest was orchestrated by criminals who had hijacked cars and vandalised key infrastructure to secure a lucrative toll from drivers.
Nigeria’s toll gates are widely despised by residents for driving up the price of goods and services. It was only possible to drive on Lekki largely by paying tolls.
Riots by angry residents also erupted last year in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers state, after petrol stations were closed off by security forces to stop protesters looting.
A deployment of armoured personnel carriers and a deployment of troops, supported by helicopter gunships, was launched as Nigeria’s military promised “serious consequences” if needed.
Last week, a Nigerian army spokesman said troops were still on the streets of Lagos, which is home to the largest population of Christians and Muslims.
The military has introduced stringent measures, restricting public movement, after security forces clashed with a similar protest in Port Harcourt last September.
The Nigerian military said that the toll gates remained closed.