By BosNewsLife Africa Service
JOS, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)-- At least some 400 people have been killed and thousands forced to flee their homes in the central Nigerian city of Jos where Christians and Muslims clashed in the worst sectarian violence in Africa's most populous nation in years.Fighting began Friday, November 28, amid a dispute over the result of a local election, witnesses said Saturday, November 29.
"Hundreds of people have been killed in the last two days since the riots started," Christian clergyman Yakumu Pam said in published remarks. "Remains of burned bodies litter some parts of the town. It is so terrible."
Khaled Abubakar, the imam of the central mosque in Jos, said "So far about 400 bodies have been brought to the mosque following the outbreak of violence." He told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that "Families are coming to identify and claim the bodies, while those that can not be identified or nobody claims them will be interred by the mosque.
MANY CHRISTIANS KILLED
However it was believed there were many Christian victims not being brought to the mosque following the riots in which mobs, including Muslim militants, burned homes, churches and mosques, witnesses said Saturday, November 29.
There were fears that the total death toll could be much higher that some 400 mentioned by several officials. The city morgue wasn't immediately accessible Saturday. Police spokesman Bala Kassim said there were "many dead," but couldn't cite a firm number, news reports said.
The hostilities mark the worst clashes in the restive West African nation since 2004, when as many as 700 people died in Plateau State during Christian-Muslim clashes. Jos, the capital of Plateau State, has a long history of community violence that has made it difficult to organize voting. Rioting in September 2001 killed more than 1,000 people.
The city is situated in Nigeria's "middle belt," where members of hundreds of ethnic groups commingle in a band of fertile and hotly contested land separating the Muslim north from the predominantly Christian south.
AUTHORITIES IMPOSE CURFEW
Authorities imposed an around-the-clock curfew in the hardest-hit areas of the central Nigerian city, where traditionally pastoralist Hausa Muslims live in tense, close quarters with Christians from other ethnic groups, media reported.
Political strife over local issues is common in Nigeria, where government offices control massive budgets stemming from the country's oil industry.
The latest fighting began as clashes between supporters of the region's two main political parties following the first local election in the town of Jos in more than a decade. But the violence expanded along ethnic and religious fault lines, with Hausas and members of Christian ethnic groups doing battle, news reports said, however there was no immediate independent confirmation.
Christians have complained of rising Muslim extremism in several parts of Nigeria, where churches have been destroyed and believers forced to flee, BosNewsLife monitored earlier.
Angry mobs gathered Thursday in Jos after electoral workers failed to publicly post results in ballot collation centers, prompting many onlookers to assume the vote was the latest in a long line of fraudulent Nigerian elections.
Riots flared Friday morning and at least 15 people were killed. Local ethnic and religious leaders made radio appeals for calm on Saturday, and streets were mostly empty by early afternoon. Troops were given orders to shoot rioters on sight.
The violence is the worst since the May 2007 inauguration of President Umaru Yar'Adua, who came to power in a vote that international observers dismissed as not credible. Few Nigerian elections have been deemed free and fair since independence from Britain in 1960, and military takeovers have periodically interrupted civilian rule, according to analysts.
Over 10,000 Nigerians have reportedly died in sectarian violence since civilian leaders took over from a former military junta in 1999.