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Protesters in Niger capital call on Areva to pay more tax

NIAMEY (Reuters) - More than 1,000 protesters marched to the offices of Areva in Niger's capital Niamey on Saturday to demand that the French nuclear firm pay more taxes in the West African country, police said.

Organizers said that as many as 2,000 people took part in the march, which came as state-controlled Areva was locked in negotiations with President Mahamadou Issofou's government over new 10-year contracts for its two mines in Niger.

Niger wants to increase the royalty tax for uranium from 5.5 percent of sales to as much as 12 percent, depending on profits, in accordance with a 2006 mining law.

Areva says this would make its mines unprofitable.

"Our 2010 constitution gives the Niger people exclusive ownership of natural resources," said Ali Idrissa, coordinator of transparency campaigner ROTAB, which organized the protest.

"It is not down to a company to choose its own tax regime," he said.

The existing 10-year contracts for Areva's Somair and Cominak mines, near the northern town of Arlit, expire on December 31. Sources close to the talks have told Reuters they would be extended for up to three months as negotiations continued.

Areva CEO Luc Oursel says the talks are progressing, but have been made difficult by a slump in uranium prices in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

Niger is the world's fourth-largest producer of uranium, but ranks bottom of the U.N. global development index. It accounts for just over one third of Areva's uranium production.

The company, which has been mining in the former French colony for more than 40 years, owns around two-thirds of the Somair mine, which produced just over 3,000 tons of yellowcake last year, and around 34 percent of the smaller Cominak mine.

Protesters carried placards reading "Areva respect the law instead of making it" and "Stop Areva: 45 years of fraud, enough is enough".

They were stopped by police 200 meters from Areva's headquarters. Organizers said they were not met by any representatives of the company.

(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Mike Collett-White)