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120 killed in Christian-Muslim reprisal fighting in Nigeria

Christians in the southern Nigerian city of Onitsha burned Muslim corpses and defaced wrecked mosques Thursday after days of sectarian strife that has killed more than 120 people across the country.

With 80 people killed and a Muslim district of about 100 homes burned to the ground, Onitsha has borne the brunt of the violence. The fighting began Saturday, when Muslims protesting the publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed killed Christians in the north, sparking reprisal killings.

Ifeanyi Ese, a 34-year-old Christian, stood amid the concrete rubble of a mosque.

"We don't want these mosques here anymore. These people are causing all the problems all over the world because they don't fear God," he said.

At least 12 burned bodies could be found in the streets of Onitsha.

"The Muslims brought this fracas," said Ezekiel Haledon, a Christian. "It's not a Christian act to kill your neighbor, but it's like that."

About 5,000 Muslims fled the city and took refuge across the Niger River in the town of Asaba. It was not known how many Muslims lived in Onitsha.

Adam Mohamed, a 40-year-old Muslim motorcycle mechanic, said mobs attacked and robbed Muslims as they fled across a bridge connecting the two cities.

The violence has revealed the deep ethnic, regional and religious differences in Africa's most populous nation, split nearly evenly between a Muslim north and a Christian and animist south. In the past decade, news reports have chronicled 20,000 deaths from political, ethnic and religious violence in Nigeria.

The most recent killings began Saturday when Muslim protests against the cartoons in the northern city of Maiduguri turned violent and 18 people, mostly Christians, were slain.

Twenty-five died in similar violence in the northern city of Bauchi.

A spokeswoman for the Nigerian Red Cross, Umo Okon, said 925 people were killed, injured or displaced in violence in Onitsha over the past two days.

Emeka Umeh, head of Civil Liberties Organization, a leading human rights group, said at least 60 people were killed Tuesday in Onitsha, and 20 on Wednesday.

Deaths were also reported in Awka, the capital, and Enugu.

The cartoons of the prophet have become the object of protests around the world since they were published in a Danish newspaper.

A group of Onitsha traders said they had no choice but to attack the Muslims.

"We have to retaliate," said Justin Ifeanyi, 24. "It is a shame to us if we don't kill them."

He also expressed amazement that cartoons from Europe could set off violence in Africa.

"This thing happened in Denmark," Ifeanyi said. "How could that be causing havoc in another part of Nigeria?"

Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.