At least 20 Niger preschool children die in school blaze

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NIAMEY (Reuters) - At least 20 nursery school children died in Niger on Tuesday in a fire that trapped them in straw-hut classrooms in a school in a poor neighbourhood of the west African nation's capital, government officials said.

"There were 20 deaths, most of them young children," said the head of Niger's fire service, Colonel Bako Boubacar. He said the origin of the fire in Niamey was unknown.

An official of a Niger's teachers union said the school in the popular Pays Bas neighbourhood had around 800 students, including children in the nursery section.

"The fire apparently started around the school gate. Without an emergency exit, many were trapped and students were forced to scale the wall to escape. Those that died were mostly children in the preschool," Mounkaila Halidou said.

Another fire service official said 21 straw hut classes caught fire during the blaze and the children were trapped inside them.

(Reporting by Moussa Aksar and Boureima Balima; Writing by Bate Felix; editing by Grant McCool)