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Banned Nigerian Shiite group suspends protests


AFP Lagos
A pro-Iranian Shiite group in Nigeria said Wednesday it was suspending protests across the country to "de-escalate" tensions after the government banned it following clashes with security forces.
A spokesperson for the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) said the group would challenge the ban in court in the coming days after the authorities labelled their activities "terrorism" over the weekend.
"We are temporarily suspending our street protests," the IMN said in a statement.
Spokesman Ibrahim Musa told AFP "this will help to de-escalate the situation, for now we will head to court and mount a challenge".
The IMN -- which is inspired by Iran's Islamic revolution -- has been holding almost daily protests in the capital Abuja calling for the release of its detained leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky.
Last week, at least six protesters, a journalist and senior police officer were killed as security forces clashed with demonstrators.
Nigeria's police chief on Tuesday ordered a clampdown on the IMN and said anyone associated with the group would be "treated as a terrorist, enemy of the state, and a subversive element".
Zakzaky has been in custody since he was arrested in December 2015 following violence that rights groups say saw the army kill some 350 of his followers.
He has been held along with his wife Zeenah Ibrahim despite the federal high court ordering their release in 2016.
The government refused and filed fresh criminal charges, including culpable homicide that is punishable by death.
The IMN protests had intensified amid fears for the health of the group's leader.
A court in the northwest state of Kaduna is expected to rule on Monday whether to allow Zakzaky to go abroad for medical treatment.
Musa said the IMN would "review our decision to suspend the protests" after court hearing on Monday.
He accused the authorities of trying to push the group underground and "create an insurgency in our name".
The IMN, founded in the 1970s with close ties in Iran, has faced hostility in Nigeria, where elites in the predominantly Sunni Muslim north of the country, are allied with Saudi Arabia.

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First Published: Jul 31 2019 | 10:45 PM IST

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