Hundreds die as Christians and Muslims clash over poll

MORE bodies were delivered to the main mosque in the central Nigerian city of Jos yesterday, as the death toll from two days of clashes between Christian and Muslim gangs rose to about 400.

Rival ethnic and religious mobs burned homes, shops, mosques and churches in fighting triggered by a disputed local election in a city at the crossroads of Nigeria's Muslim north and Christian south. It is the country's worst unrest for years.

Murtala Sani Hashim, who has been registering the dead as they are brought to the main mosque, said he had listed 367 bodies, and more were arriving. Ten corpses wrapped in blankets, two of them infants, lay behind him.

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A doctor at one of the city's main hospitals said he had received 25 corpses and 154 injured since the unrest began.

"Gunshot wounds, machete injuries, those are the two main types," Dr Aboi Madaki, director of clinical services at Jos University Teaching Hospital, said.

The overall toll was expected to be higher, with some victims already buried and others taken to other clinics.

The violence appeared to die down yesterday, as soldiers patrolled on foot and in jeeps to enforce a 24-hour curfew imposed on the worst-hit areas. People who ventured out walked with their hands in the air to show they were unarmed.

"They are still picking up dead bodies outside. Some areas were not reachable until now," said Al Mansur, 53, a farmer, who said all the homes around his had been razed.

Overturned and burnt-out vehicles littered the streets, while several churches, a block of houses and an Islamic school in one neighbourhood had been destroyed by fire.

Hundreds of women and children carrying plastic jerrycans searched the streets for functioning water taps.

The clashes between gangs of Muslim Hausas and mostly Christian youths began early on Friday and were provoked by a disputed local election, after rumours spread that the ANPP party candidate, backed by Hausas, had lost the race to the ruling PDP.

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"The PDP provided an all-Christian ticket. They started the trouble because they couldn't win," said Samaila Abdullahi Mohammed, a spokesman for the Imam at the main mosque.

He accused the security forces of heavy-handed tactics. "As far as we are concerned, we have stopped the violence, but the police have not," he said.

The Red Cross said some 7,000 people had fled their homes and were sheltering in government buildings, an army barracks and religious centres. A senior police official said 523 people had been detained.

Nigeria's 140 million population is roughly equally split between Muslims and Christians and the communities generally live peacefully side by side. Displaced people from both religions sheltered together in impromptu camps around Jos.

But ethnic and religious tensions in the country's central "Middle Belt" run deep, rooted in resentment from indigenous minority groups, mostly Christian or animist, towards migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.

Hundreds were killed in ethnic-religious fighting in Jos in 2001. Hundreds more died in 2004 in nearby Yelwa.

Unrest in the region has, in the past, triggered reprisals in other areas of the country. But the security forces appear to have reacted more quickly to contain the violence in Jos this time, with the army sending in reinforcements from neighbouring states.


THOUSANDS have died in religious and ethnic violence in Nigeria since the start of the decade.

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The latest fighting comes as the country's president, Umaru Yar'Adua, faces mounting criticism over the slow progress being made by his administration after 18 months in office. Violence continues to plague the oil-producing Niger Delta region, an intermittent power supply remains a major hindrance to the country's growth and a drawn-out cabinet reshuffle and weeks of delays to the government's 2009 budget have heightened political uncertainty.

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