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One hundred killed as religious divisions spark fresh violence

Nigeria's lethal religious divisions were underlined again this weekend as at least 100 people were killed in clashes in the divided city of Jos in the centre of the country.

The latest atrocity comes during a leadership crisis in Nigeria where acting president Goodluck Jonathan is embroiled in a paralysing power struggle and the head of state Umaru Yar'Adua is too ill to govern. Following the killings, Mr Jonathan put more security forces in the central region and put neighbouring state's on "red alert" amid fears that the violence could spread.

Witnesses in Dogo Nahawa, a village just south of Jos, reported seeing bodies piled high after an attack by Muslim herders who came down from the surrounding hills. The attackers entered the village, a Christian community, in the early hours of Sunday morning firing shots to create panic, said locals.

"The shooting was just meant to bring people from their houses and then when people came out they started cutting them with machetes," one villager told Reuters. A spokesman for the Plateau State Governor said as many as 500 people may have been killed but there was no independent confirmation of this. Hundreds of survivors have fled the area while the International Red Cross said it was treating scores of survivors.

Jos has been the scene of repeated mass killings during the last decade due to ethnic and religious divisions and yesterday's killings were thought to be a reprisal for a previous round of bloodletting in January which took 400 lives.

The city is divided between Muslim and Christian areas. The cycle of violence in Jos serves as a reminder of the volatile nature of the ethnic and religious make up in Africa's most populous country. The balance of power between the predominantly Muslim north and the Christian dominated south has led the ruling party to alternate their presidential candidates between two blocs. That agreement is threatened by the northern-born president's health crisis, which has sparked a power struggle in ruling circles.