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JOS, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigeria's Vice President on Thursday ordered the army to take over security in the central city of Jos and pledged the government would prevent further clashes after days of violence which has killed hundreds.
Goodluck Jonathan, who has been empowered by a federal court to perform executive duties in the absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua, ordered the army to take over security in and around Jos after days of clashes between Muslim and Christian gangs.
"I have today ordered the army to lead the security forces to take over the entire security of the affected areas, including those areas that are considered prone to risk," he said in a speech broadcast on state television.
It was Jonathan's first national address since a court ruled last week he could perform all executive duties in the absence of Yar'Adua, who has been in hospital in Saudi Arabia for the past two months but who has not formally transferred powers.
But the court said Jonathan could not be "acting president" and the opposition has questioned whether he is legally able to deploy troops, saying the constitution gives only the president that authority as commander-in-chief.
The vice president used executive powers for the first time earlier this week when he ordered troops into Jos to help police restore order.
"Let me assure all that the federal government is on top of the situation and that the crisis is being brought under control," Jonathan said.
Nigerian authorities relaxed a 24-hour curfew in Jos earlier on Thursday to allow thousands of residents to return to their homes.
The strong presence of troops and police has helped restore calm in the capital of Plateau state with no reports of major violence for nearly a day.
Four days of sectarian clashes this week killed more than 460 in and around the city, which lies in the center of Africa's most populous nation.
The Red Cross estimated 17,000 people have been displaced and took shelter in colleges, hospitals and schools since clashes began on Sunday.
"There are so many people that need clothing, food and water. The Red Cross is focusing on those injured and referring some to hospital," an agency spokesman said, adding that about 990 have been hospitalized.
The clashes have not had an impact on sub-Saharan Africa's second biggest economy. Its oil industry is in the south and the banks mainly in the commercial capital Lagos.
"Most emphasis is on the health of the banks and the president and the renewed violence is not expected to have significant macroeconomic effect," said Richard Segal, analyst at Knight Libertas.
The relative calm has allowed some businesses to reopen and families to reunite, but the city remained tense with hundreds of soldiers and police patrolling the streets.
"I have come to pick up my children who ran into the camps with my mother. Now that normalcy is returning, I feel safe to see them," said Tunde Oyalemi, a Jos resident.
Mosque officials were also free to travel to nearby communities and bury the dead.
"We are preparing to bury them now as the violence has stopped and we have the manpower to do it," said Muhammed Tanko Shittu, a senior mosque official organizing mass burials.
Mosque officials have estimated the number of dead Muslims since Sunday at about 400. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch on Wednesday said at least 65 Christians had died.
Official government figures were significantly lower at 75 dead, more than 200 injured and 200 arrested.
Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja, Carolyn Cohn in London; Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Giles Elgood