Death toll hits 400 in Nigerian clashes

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Residents took more bodies to the main mosque in the Nigerian city of Jos yesterday, bringing the death toll from two days of clashes between Muslim and Christian gangs to about 400.

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 a large city hospital said he had received 25 corpses and 154 injured.

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

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

Jos, the capital of Plateau, was quiet but tense late yesterday. People who ventured out 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," Mr Gagara told reporters.

The latest clashes between gangs of Muslim Hausas and mostly Christian youths began early on Friday and were provoked 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, a spokesman for the imam at the main mosque. Official results showed the PDP candidate won the vote but his swearing-in, due today, 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 are sheltering together in impromptu camps around Jos.

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