Religious Violence Persists in Nigeria

Authorities have slapped a curfew on a city that has seen repeated violence between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, but it has failed to stop the latest outbreak of killings. The violence broke out Sunday and flared up again Tuesday, prompting the imposition of a 24-hour curfew through Wednesday. But the curfew has already been broken and violence still rages.

The clashes broke out Sunday and have continued since, with reports of gunfire and burning buildings. The current violence has forced at least 3,000 people from their homes. The violence spread beyond the city boundaries on Tuesday to neighbouring areas.

Reuters quoted residents as saying the violence started after an argument over the rebuilding of homes destroyed in 2008 clashes. It is not certain what exactly sparked the latest round of violence, but hundreds have died in clashes between Christians and Muslims in the central Plateau state in the past decade.

The most populous country in Africa, with a population of more than 150 million, Nigeria is almost evenly divided by Muslims and Christians. With more than 78 million Muslims, it has the sixth largest Islamic population in the world. The divisions between Christianity and Islam are more than symbolic in Nigeria. There is a geographical boundary: Nigerian Muslims tend to live in the north, while Christians live in the south. The city of Jos, the location of the latest violence, sits in what is known as the “Middle Belt”, sitting between the north and the south.

The death toll has not been verified independently in Tuesday’s clashes and it is unknown how many Christians have died. Reports have offered totals from 70 to 190 people killed. Balarabe Dawud, head of the Central Mosque in Jos, told AFP news agency that he had counted 192 bodies since Sunday.

Nigeria’s vice-president, Goodluck Jonathan, has asked for troops to help police restore order and has also dispatched top security officials. It is the first time that the vice-president has used executive powers since President Umaru Yar’Adua left Nigeria for hospital treatment in Saudi Arabia in November. The vice president has been presiding over cabinet meetings and representing the president at official functions, but the president has not formally transferred power over to him.

Correspondents say such clashes like Tuesday’s in Nigeria are often blamed on sectarianism. However, poverty and access to resources such as land often lie at the root of the violence.

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