Nigeria

Death toll in Nigeria rises, army restores calm

By Randy Fabi

JOS, Nigeria, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Residents took more bodies to the main mosque in the Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, bringing the death toll from two days of clashes between Muslim and Christian gangs to about 400 people.

Rival ethnic and religious gangs have burned homes, shops, mosques and churches in fighting triggered by a disputed local election in the 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 mosque, told Reuters he had listed 367 bodies. Ten corpses wrapped in blankets, two of them infants, lay behind him awaiting burial rites.

A doctor at one of main city 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 of the Jos University Teaching Hospital told Reuters.

Nuhu Gagara, Plateau state information chief, said official police figures indicated that around 200 people had been killed. But he said information was still being collated.

Jos, Plateau's capital, was calm but tense on Sunday. Soldiers patrolled on foot and in jeeps to enforce a 24-hour curfew on the worst-hit neighbourhoods. People who ventured out in some areas walked with their hands in the air to show they were unarmed.

"All indications are the situation is well contained. We believe it is almost over. It is unlikely it will spill to other states," Gagara told reporters.

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

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

SIMMERING TENSIONS

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

"The PDP provided an all-Christian ticket. They started the trouble because they couldn't win," said Samaila Abdullahi Mohammed, 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.

Official results showed the PDP candidate won the vote but his swearing in, originally due on Monday, has been postponed.

Nigeria's 140 million people are roughly split equally between Muslims and Christians and the two 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 "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, leading then-President Olusegun Obasanjo to declare an emergency.

Pope Benedict on Sunday prayed in St Peter's Square for the victims of what he called "senseless" violence.

(Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Disclaimer

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit https://www.trust.org/alertnet