Security forces kill 50 in Nigeria


More than 50 Nigerians were killed today in clashes between security forces and militants
in the northeastern city of Bauchi, residents and hospital sources said.

The fighting began early today when around 70 militants armed with guns and explosives attacked a local police station in retaliation for the arrest of their leaders.

Police and soldiers repelled the attack and then raided neighbourhoods to arrest those responsible.

Hospital sources and residents said more than 50 people were killed in the fighting.

A Reuters reporter counted 32 bodies at two Bauchi police stations and said dozens were wounded among the more than 200 arrested. The official government death toll is 39, including one soldier.

"We have pre-empted the militants. Otherwise the situation would have been bad," Bauchi state Governor Isa Yuguda told reporters.

"I'm calling on all the people of Bauchi to be calm and be rest assured the situation has been brought under control," he added.

The governor imposed a night time curfew in Bauchi for the next few days to calm tensions. There was an increased police presence in some neighbourhoods, but businesses remained open and people were milling the streets freely before the curfew.

Police spokesman Mohammed Barau said the militants belonged to Boko Haram, a local group that wants sharia (Islamic law) to be imposed on all of Nigeria.

A member of Boko Haram who was wounded during the initial attack on the police station said his group wanted to "clean the (Nigerian) system which is polluted by western education and uphold sharia all over the country." "The police has been arresting our leaders that is why we decided to retaliate," said the man, who gave his name only as Abdullah.

The Islamic group is not connected to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Nigeria's most prominent rebel group responsible for a campaign of violence that has devastated Africa's biggest energy sector since early 2006.

Bauchi is one of 12 states in the predominately Muslim north that started a stricter enforcement of sharia in 2000 - a decision that has alienated sizable Christian minorities and sparked bouts of sectarian violence that killed thousands.

Nigeria is roughly equally split between Christians and Muslims, although traditional animist beliefs underpin many people's faith.

More than 200 ethnic groups generally live peacefully side by side in the West African country, although civil war left one million people dead between 1967 and 1970 and there have been bouts of religious unrest since then.

Last November, hundreds were killed in two days of clashes in the central city of Jos after a disputed election triggered the worst fighting between Muslim and Christian gangs in years in Africa's most populous country.