Nigerian religious violence kills 96

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Bodies littered the streets of the southern Nigerian city of Onitsha as the death toll from days of violence between Christians and Muslims across Nigeria rose to at least 96.

"I've counted more than 20 people killed today," said Isotonu Achor, who lives in Onitsha, after rioters armed with machetes and shotguns poured through the mainly Christian city yesterday. Residents said soldiers had opened fire on a mob of ethnic Igbo Christians that tried to enter the military barracks after reports that ethnic Hausa Muslims sheltering in the barracks had attacked a nearby primary school, killing a number of children.

The claims could not be verified and it was not clear if the soldiers killed anyone in the mob.

The deaths brought to at least 96 the number of people killed in Nigeria since sectarian violence first erupted on Saturday in the northern city of Maiduguri, where Muslim protests against cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Mohamad turned violent, burning down 30 churches and claiming the lives of 18 people, mostly Christians.

Similar violence followed on Monday and Tuesday in the northern city of Bauchi, where witnesses and Red Cross officials say 25 people were killed when Muslim mobs attacked Christians there.

Bauchi was tense but calm yesterday, with police and soldiers on patrol.

In Onitsha, two mosques were burned down and least 30 people were killed on Tuesday, most of them northern Muslims. Thousands of Muslims with origins in the north fled to the military barracks.

Nigeria is divided between a predominantly Muslim north and a mainly Christian south. Thousands have died in religious violence since 2000.

The attacks by Christian mobs in Onitsha were in reprisal against the violence in Maiduguri and Bauchi, which are dominated by Muslims.