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Religious Violence Erupts in Nigeria

Intense clashes erupted Tuesday after fighting in the northern city first broke out Sunday. Witnesses said they heard gunshots at various times Tuesday and saw groups of men with what appeared to be machetes and makeshift weapons.

Sheikh Khalid Aliyu, the local head of the council of Muslim religious leaders, said several dozen dead bodies have been collected for burial but did not have any accurate casualty figures. "The situation is tense," said Sheikh Aliyu. "A lot of houses are still burning, and the security is not adequate."

Vice President Goodluck Jonathan deployed federal troops to Jos on Tuesday. Mr. Jonathan is acting in the place of President Umaru Yar'Adua, who has been in Saudi Arabia for the past two months receiving treatment for a heart condition. Nigerian officials couldn't immediately be reached for comment on the violence or on the government response.

Christians and Muslims live side by side in relative peace throughout Nigeria, but sporadic fighting between the two groups has claimed several thousand lives since 2000.

It wasn't immediately clear what triggered the most recent fighting. Many Jos residents say clashes were touched off Sunday when a Muslim man began rebuilding the home he lost during similar November 2008 rioting that killed at least 300 people. The man was first taunted and then attacked, the witnesses said.

Multiple attempts to reach police, information officials and politicians in Plateau state, of which Jos is capital, were unsuccessful.

"The fighting taking place today is people trying to get revenge on certain groups," said Nankin Bagudu, the Plateau State commissioner for youth and sports.

The state government, which had enacted a dusk-to-dawn curfew Sunday, imposed a 24-hour curfew Tuesday. In a television broadcast, the governor of Plateau state said the government wouldn't bear responsibility for what happens to those who remained on the streets, said Seriki Adinoyi, a local newspaper reporter.

"The fighting has started in Jos North [on Sunday] but started spreading to other areas by Tuesday. We heard people shooting and saw houses on fire in Jos South" in the early hours Tuesday morning, Mr. Adinoyi said. "Later today it started again."

During the November 2008 violence, the military gave shoot-on-sight orders for anyone out past curfew. Rights groups claim that many innocent civilians were killed.

It was unclear how long the round-the-clock curfew would last. "The curfew is making things difficult, especially for people without foodstuffs or water who can't go to the market," Mr. Adinoyi said. "

Faycal Souteï 20/1/2010

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