Anti-police protests continue in Nigeria

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Nigerian protesters demanding an end to police brutality returned to the streets on Wednesday, saying they were unconvinced by a new police unit and a pledge not to use violence against demonstrators.

Protesters staged daily marches nationwide for a week, calling for an overhaul of police forces. Police responded with beatings, tear gas and gunfire, which human rights group Amnesty International said killed at least 10 people.

The protests prompted a raft of announcements. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a police unit demonstrators accuse of beatings, killings and extortion, was officially disbanded on Sunday.

On Tuesday, police agreed to stop using force against protesters. They also announced formation of a new unit, the Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT), to “fill the gaps” left by the disbanded SARS.

Protesters said on Wednesday they feared the new unit will be a rebranded SARS.

Hundreds gathered on Wednesday in Abuja, as well as megacity Lagos and Warri to press calls for police reforms.

“What they do is give them new uniforms, call them a different name, but they are still the same people,” said blogger Folu Oyefeso, in Lagos.

Demonstrators in Lagos sang, danced and chanted. Many held placards, including one reading “Stop killing our dreamers. #EndSARS now”.

Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, in a statement, urged protesters to wind down demonstrations, saying the gridlock in recent days disrupted businesses still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

“People are just coming back to businesses. It would be unfair for those businesses not to be able to get back on their feet again,” he said.