Thursday, February 23, 2006

Nigerian Christians killing Muslims

ONITSHA - Bodies were burning on piles of tyres in the southern Nigerian city of Onitsha as relative calm returned after two days of rioting in which Christians slaughtered dozens of Muslims.

On the Upper Iweka Road in downtown Onitsha, a reporter saw at least five bodies roasting in a bonfire of car tyres and waste wood. Onlookers said nine people had been killed on the streets.

Although there was a heavy military presence in the streets, traffic was moving freely and shops and businesses reopened. "The situation is calm now, the roads are open," an army lieutenant said, declining to give his name.

A mortuary attendant at Onitsha General Hospital said that 11 bodies were in the morgue. However, a reporter had on Wednesday seen 19 bodies lining the streets leading to the city. The true extent of the toll is meanwhile far from clear.

The Onitsha riots were revenge attacks in response to an earlier massacre of Christians in the Muslim-dominated north of the country after protests over cartoons of Prophet Mohammed which first appeared in a Danish newspaper.

Nigeria's 130-million-strong population is divided roughly equally between Muslims and Christians of a variety of sects and denominations. While northern Nigeria is overwhelmingly Muslim and the south largely Christian, there are large minority populations in both regions and sectarian rioting is relatively common and extremely bloody.

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