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Nigerian City Riven by Religious Riots

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From Reuters

Soldiers collected more bodies from the streets of the city of Jos overnight as authorities tightened a curfew to deal with looting in the aftermath of bloody religious riots, officials said.

“We don’t have a total casualty figure yet, but we’re talking of more than 20 bodies retrieved from the streets so far,” said an official of the central Nigerian state of Plateau, whose capital is Jos.

Witnesses estimated the death toll to be much higher, based on the number of bodies seen in the streets since Christian-Muslim violence flared shortly after Muslim prayers Friday.

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Official sources say Nigerian authorities routinely hold back casualty figures from communal or religious violence in an attempt to prevent reprisal attacks. The real magnitude of such mayhem usually emerges well after the violence.

A curfew started at 4 p.m. Saturday. “It’s mainly to stop looting,” said Plateau state government Secretary Ezekiel Gomos. “Rioters don’t riot at night.”

Residents said an eerie calm reigned over the hilly tin-mining city known for its pleasant weather and postcard landscape.

The prompt intervention of army and air force units appeared to have averted the scale of bloodletting witnessed in Christian-Muslim clashes elsewhere in the past.

Plateau is in the so-called Middle Belt region of Nigeria, whose inhabitants are mainly Christian or animist minority tribes living alongside a significant Muslim population.

Jos had previously avoided the sectarian violence of its neighbors, but residents said sectarian tensions had been building in Plateau since the state governor named a Muslim to head the state’s poverty alleviation program a month ago.

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Friday’s flare-up was sparked by a wrangle between Christians and Muslims after a Christian woman allegedly breached a barricade erected to control traffic around the central mosque area during Friday prayers, residents said.

Churches and mosques were set on fire Friday.

On Saturday, Christian vigilantes poured into the streets to guard churches. According to Christian sources, they had interpreted an all-night Muslim prayer call from mosques as a call for jihad, or Islamic holy war.

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