Calm returns to Nigerian city after deadly clashes

Troop reinforcements on foot and in armored personnel carriers appeared on Sunday to have quelled two days of violence that left hundreds dead in a central Nigerian city.

nigeria violence 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
nigeria violence 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Military units moving into Jos helped strengthen roadblocks and streets were mostly empty. Police said they had made hundreds of arrests since the clashes flared early Friday after a disputed local election. By late Saturday, at least 300 bodies had been brought to the city's main mosque for prayers before a quick burial, its imam said. The final death toll could be much higher, since many Christians are also presumed dead in the political violence that quickly took a sectarian turn. Christian bodies wouldn't be taken to the mosque, and the city morgue wasn't accessible. The hostilities are 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 elections difficult to organize. 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 imposed an around-the-clock curfew in the hardest-hit areas of Jos, where traditionally pastoralist Hausa Muslims live in tense, close quarters with Christians from other ethnic groups. The fighting began as clashes between supporters of the region's two main political parties following the first local election in Jos in more than a decade. But the violence expanded along ethnic and religious fault lines. 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. 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. More than 10,000 Nigerians have died in sectarian violence since civilian leaders took over from a former military junta in 1999. Political strife over local issues is common in Nigeria, where government offices control massive budgets stemming from the country's oil industry.