Over 400 reported dead after Nigeria clashes


Residents delivered more bodies to the main mosque in the central Nigerian city of Jos todday, bringing the death toll from two days of clashes between Muslim and Christian gangs to around 400 people.

Rival ethnic and religious mobs have 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 city's main mosque, told Reuters he had listed 367 bodies and more were arriving. Ten corpses wrapped in blankets, two of them infants, lay behind him.

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, told Reuters.

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 on Sunday. 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, a 53-year-old 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 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.

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 rumours 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 told Reuters.

Nigeria's 140 million people are roughly equally split 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 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.

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

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.

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 than on previous occasions to contain the violence in Jos, with the army sending in reinforcements from neighbouring states.