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Nigeria violence an echo of nation's bloody past

An unidentified man Thursday walks past a destroyed market in Zonkwa, Nigeria. Nigeria plunged into violence after last weekend’s presidential election. Hundreds of people are likely dead, though the government will not give an estimate for fear it may spark more religious violence.

Associated Press

An unidentified man Thursday walks past a destroyed market in Zonkwa, Nigeria. Nigeria plunged into violence after last weekend’s presidential election. Hundreds of people are likely dead, though the government will not give an estimate for fear it may spark more religious violence.

KAFANCHAN, Nigeria — Whole sections of towns are burned out, the smell of rot is in the air, and people are escaping with whatever they can carry across the rural lands that separate Nigeria's Christian south and Muslim north.

The religious rioting that swept Africa's most populous nation days after its presidential election likely killed hundreds of people, though government officials remain hesitant to offer death tolls for fear of sparking more violence.

To the nation's president and his top political rival, however, the rioting evokes memories of the nation's bloody post-independence disorder and the Nigerian-Biafran War.

"These acts of mayhem are sad reminders of the events which plunged our country into 30 months of an unfortunate civil war," President Goodluck Jonathan said in a recent nationwide address.

After last Saturday's election, violent protests erupted in cities throughout the north. That rioting immediately took on religious tones, as rioters burned churches and attacked Christians. Christians thus retaliated by burning mosques and attacking Muslim neighborhoods.

One burned mosque outside the hard-hit city of Kaduna bore expletives written within the burned remains targeting Islam while exhorting Christianity. Even before the violence hit, young men gathered around a ballot counting in neighboring Katsina state, chanting "God is Great" in Arabic as they saw a vote for Buhari.

During a tour of Kaduna state Thursday, Associated Press journalists traveling with Nigerian military leaders saw the religion-focussed violence continue. In the town of Maysirga, rioters burned mosques and houses, while churches suffered no damage.

In Kafanchan, gas stations lay burned as the curious gathered on the street to see the convoy. Both mosques and churches were also razed to the ground, as were election offices for the ruling People's Democratic Party, which has controlled Nigerian politics since the nation became a democracy in 1999. Whole neighborhoods and markets sat in smoldering ruins.

Military officials stopped at a police station in the town, where several hundred refugees — all Muslim — were taking shelter. In Zonkwa, where witnesses say several hundred died, as many as 1,000 Muslims sought refuge at a police station.

Nigeria violence an echo of nation's bloody past 04/22/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 22, 2011 10:57pm]

    

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