Nigerian army intervenes to end clashes in city

Authorities in the central Nigerian city of Jos extended a curfew and ordered the army to shoot on sight on Saturday to prevent new clashes between ethnic and religious gangs after fighting killed at least 20 people.

The governor of Plateau state, of which Jos is the capital, imposed a 24-hour curfew on neighbourhoods of the city that have been racked by violence in which rival gangs burned churches and mosques, forcing thousands from their homes.

A statement from the governor’s office, read out on local radio, said the security forces had been directed to shoot on sight to enforce the measure. Sporadic violence continued overnight despite a previous dawn-to-dusk curfew.

The sound of automatic gunfire echoed around parts of the city, which lies at the crossroads between Nigeria’s mostly Muslim north and mostly Christian south.

“There is machine gun fire and there are occasional heavy booms. There is smoke everywhere,” said one resident in a neighbourhood on the edge of the unrest, asking not to be named.

“There are Hausas and Beroms who want to fight each other and the army is in the middle trying to create a buffer zone.”

A Reuters witness said people were running to seek refuge early on Saturday close to a mosque which had come under attack but that the streets were quiet in many areas of the city as the security forces patrolled.

The unrest is the most serious of its kind in Africa’s most populous nation, roughly equally split between Christians and Muslims, since President Umaru Yar’Adua took power in May 2007.

The Red Cross said on Friday that at least 20 people had been killed and more than 300 injured.

The clashes between gangs of Muslim Hausas and mostly Christian Beroms were triggered by a disputed local government chairmanship election.

Residents said demonstrators from the Hausa ethnic group began protesting early on Friday after rumours spread that their ANPP party candidate had lost the race to the ruling PDP party.

Christians and Muslims generally live peacefully side by side in Africa’s top oil producer, a country of 140-million people.
But hostility has simmered in the past in Plateau state.

Hundreds were killed in ethnic-religious street fighting in Jos in 2001. Three years later, hundreds died in clashes in the town of Yelwa, leading then-president Olusegun Obasanjo to declare a state of emergency and impose a curfew.

The tensions in Plateau state have their roots in decades of resentment by indigenous minority groups, mostly Christian or animist, towards migrants and settlers from Nigeria’s Hausa-speaking Muslim north. - Reuters

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