Mon, Feb 20, 2006 - Page 1 News List

At least 15 people killed in Nigerian cartoon riots

RAMPAGE Witnesses said mobs swarmed through the city with machetes on Saturday, and that many of the dead were Christians who had been beaten to death


Police and soldiers patrolled the deserted streets of the northern Nigerian town of Maiduguri yesterday, one day after thousands of Nigerian Muslims protesting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed attacked Christians and burned churches, killing at least 15 people.

Most residents stayed at home amid a tense calm, fearful of a repeat of the previous day's violence -- the first major protest to erupt over the issue in the country.

On Saturday, rioters burned 15 Christian churches in Maiduguri in a three-hour rampage before troops and police reinforcements restored order, Nigerian police spokesman Haz Iwendi said.

Security forces arrested dozens of people suspected of taking part in the violence, Iwendi said.

A reporter on the scene saw mobs of Muslim protesters swarm through the city center with machetes, sticks and iron rods. One group threw a tire around one man, poured gas on him and set him ablaze.

Chima Ezeoke, a Christian Maiduguri resident, said the protesters attacked and looted shops owned by minority Christians, most of them with origins in the country's south.

``Most of the dead were Christians beaten to death on the streets by the rioters,'' Ezeoke said.

Witnesses said three children and a Catholic priest were among those killed.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country of more than 130 million people, is roughly divided between a predominantly Muslim north and a mainly Christian south. Christians are a minority in Maiduguri.

Mutual suspicions between Christians and Muslims often break out into sectarian violence in Nigeria.

Thousands of people have died in this West African country since 2000 in religious violence fueled by the adoption of the strict Islamic or Shariah legal code by a dozen states in the north, seen by most Christians as a move to impose religious hegemony on non-Muslims.

The cartoons, which first appeared in a Danish newspaper last September, have set off sometimes violent protests around the world. One shows Mohammed wearing a bomb-shaped turban with an ignited fuse. Other newspapers, mostly in Europe, have reprinted the pictures, asserting their news value and freedom of expression.

Islam widely holds that representations of Mohammed are banned for fear they could lead to idolatry.

Nigeria has been spared much of the violence the issue has sparked in other parts of the world.

On Feb. 7, lawmakers in the heavily Muslim state of Kano burned Danish and Norwegian flags outside the local parliament building and barred Danish companies from bidding on a major construction project.

Kano state's 40 lawmakers also voted unanimously to cancel a US$25 million contract to buy 70 Danish buses while calling on the state's 5 million people to boycott goods from Denmark.

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