Nigerian riots kill more than 200

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The Independent Online

About 200 victims of Muslim-Christian religious riots, many of them burned beyond recognition, were dumped into a mass grave Wednesday following two days of fierce fighting in this northern town, government officials said.

About 200 victims of Muslim-Christian religious riots, many of them burned beyond recognition, were dumped into a mass grave Wednesday following two days of fierce fighting in this northern town, government officials said.

Authorities have been reluctant to give an exact death toll, fearing it will only further inflame the rival groups. However, police and hospital sources put the count at more than 200. Witnesses and journalists who visited the worst-hit areas said the actual toll could be two or three times as high.

The dead, gathered from three hospitals in Kaduna, were placed in a mass grave dug beside the road leading to the city's new airport, the officials said.

Meanwhile, minor skirmishes were brought under control Wednesday by the large security force patrolling the streets, and anguished residents salvaged belongings from burned out homes.

The latest clashes were a revival of bitter religious bloodletting in Kaduna in February triggered by plans to implement Islamic law, or sharia, in some northern Nigerian states that are divided between Muslims and Christians. Up to 2,000 died in those clashes.

Schools and many businesses were closed and parts of the city remained tense Wednesday, but some stores reopened, and cars lined up at gas stations that had been shut since the weekend.

Hundreds of homes were badly damaged or destroyed in three separate residential parts of the city that suffered heavy fighting Monday and Tuesday.

Many residents expressed fears that additional attacks could be launched by "fake soldiers" - civilians who have dressed in military uniforms, entering neighborhoods and setting homes ablaze.

Police told residents to hand in guns, and said a house-to-house search for weapons would begin soon.

"This warning has become very necessary in view of the large number of people already arrested with such arms," said Mohammed Shehu, police commissioner for Kaduna state. More than 140 people have been arrested, he said.

At the Barraudikko Specialist Hospital, a supervisor said the hospital was under strict instructions not to give the bodies to relatives. During the rioting in February, bodies sent to the eastern city of Aba sparked retaliatory violence.

The hospital's morgue had space for only 18 bodies, forcing the staff to place additional dead in the hallway until they were taken away for burial, said the supervisor, who requested anonymity.

"We've been living peacefully for a long while," said Madauchi Garba, a local chief and a Christian in a settlement on the edge of town that was badly hit. "But some irresponsible youths are always looking for an opportunity to make trouble."

Fighting broke out Monday after some residents in the predominantly Christian neighborhood of Narayi blamed Muslims for an earlier killing of a local man, police said.

Armed with clubs, stones and machetes, the Christians attacked and burned homes of Muslims from the Barnawa community, who in turn launched reprisals. On Tuesday, the fighting spread to other areas.

Kaduna State Governor Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi met with religious and ethnic leaders Tuesday and imposed an 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew.

Under sharia law, new courts were created to try criminal cases involving Muslims and mete out punishments. Sharia supporters have said the laws would only apply to Muslims, but the calls for sharia angered and frightened Nigeria's Christians.

The new courts have already handed down sentences such as floggings, and a convicted cow thief had his hand amputated.

The fighting in February was also linked to Nigeria's web of ethnic disputes and the North's waning power since democratic rule was instituted last year.

Southern Nigeria is predominantly Christian, and northern Nigeria is overwhelmingly Muslim. Northerners dominate Nigeria's military, and wielded immense power during the 15 years of army rule, which ended last year with President Olusegun Obasanjo's election.

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