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Over 50 Christians Killed in Nigeria , New Violence Reported

Monday, 20 February 2006

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife

ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)– A Nigerian state imposed a curfew late Monday, February 20, after new religious riots reportedly killed at least 10 people, while the death toll from a weekend of attacks against Christians was put at over 50.

The fighting in Bauchi, the capital of the northern state with the same name, was triggered by an argument over the Koran, regarded by Muslims as their holy book, officials said.

As the smoke cleared, a witness of Reuters news agency counted 10 bodies on the streets of Bauchi and roughly 100 injured people in a local hospital. Despite these observations, local Commissioner for Information Ibrahim Zailani denied people had lost their lives.

German News Agency DPA quoted him as saying that a curfew would begin at 1800 UTC and end at 0700 UTC daily to prevent more clashes.

DEADLIEST VIOLENCE

The deadliest violence broke out this weekend in Maiduguri , the capital of Borno State in north-eastern Nigeria , following protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), an umbrella body of all churches, said Monday, February 20, that over 50 people were killed in the city. The Red Cross reportedly put the death toll in Maiduguri and Katsina, another northern state tarnished by violence, at up to 28.

Catholic officials told reporters that among those killed was Catholic Priest Matthew Gajere of St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Maiduguri . He was allegedly murdered and burned in his apartment.

CHURCHES DESTROYED

CAN Vice President Joel Billy said in statements that 40 churches and several business premises belonging to Christians were also destroyed in the Maiduguri riot.

He stressed that the state’s Christian community “had lost confidence in the state government’s security network” and urged the federal government to take charge of security in the state.

Of Nigeria ’s nearly 130-million-strong population 40 percent is Christian, 50 percent Muslim, and the rest follows indigenous beliefs, according to estimates.

NORTHERN STATES

Human rights watchdogs say Christians suffer especially in northern states where since the return of civilian rule in Nigeria Sharia law was implemented.

Thousands have been killed in religious in Christian-Muslim clashes over the last five years, and churches are concerned that especially protests over the controversial cartoons will spark more wide spread bloodshed.

The Prophet Muhammad cartoons were first printed in Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September, and later published by several other media.

OPINION ARTICLE

In an opinion article written for Sunday editions of the Washington Post, Flemming Rose, the editor at the Jyllands-Posten newspaper defended his decision to run the caricatures.

Muslims have argued that Western civilization should not include hurting religious feelings. Moderate Muslims have however urged supporters not to react with violence. (With BosNewsLife Research, BosNewsLife News Center and reports from Nigeria )