December 1, 2008 / 12:25 PM / 11 years ago

Nigerian town emerges from days of clashes

(Adds 24,000 displaced, paragraph 6)

By Randy Fabi

JOS, Nigeria, Dec 1 (Reuters) - A few market stalls opened and motorcycle taxis returned tentatively to the streets of Jos on Monday after the Nigerian army quelled clashes between Muslim and Christian gangs which killed hundreds of people.

Nuhu Gagara, Plateau state information chief, said there had been no reports of fresh violence and that state governor Jonah Jang and security chiefs were considering easing a 24-hour curfew imposed on the worst-hit neighbourhoods.

A night-time curfew is still in place across the town.

Rival ethnic and religious gangs burned homes, shops, mosques and churches in two days of fighting triggered by a disputed local election in the city, which lies at the crossroads of Nigeria’s Muslim north and Christian south.

It is the worst unrest in Africa’s most populous nation for years and another troubling episode for democracy on the continent after post-election turmoil over the past year in Kenya and Zimbabwe and disputed results elsewhere.

The National Emergency Management Agency said it was distributing rice, beans, blankets and soap to 24,000 people estimated to have fled their homes and sheltering in makeshift camps set up in schools, army barracks, churches and mosques.

Food and fuel prices soared, making life even harder for the poorest, whose neighbourhoods bore the brunt of the violence.

"Most of the shops are closed and the price of food is increasing dramatically. Water could soon run out as no one is manning the pumping stations," said Francis Ayinzat of aid agency Oxfam, which has a farming programme based in Jos.

Motorcycle taxi riders said fuel prices had risen to 200 naira ($1.68) per litre from 70 naira.



HUNDREDS DEAD

Gagara said on Sunday that the preliminary figures from the police showed around 200 people had been killed in the fighting. But mosque and hospital sources put the death toll much higher.

An official at the main mosque, Murtala Sani Hashim, who has been registering the dead as they are brought in, told Reuters he had listed 367 bodies. A senior doctor at the Jos University Teaching Hospital said he had received 25 dead and 154 wounded.

Nigeria’s 140 million people are split almost equally between Muslims and Christians and the two communities generally live peacefully side by side.

But ethnic and religious tensions in the country’s "Middle Belt" run deep. Hundreds have been killed in ethnic-religious fighting in Jos, capital of Plateau state, in the past.

The tensions are rooted in decades of resentment by indigenous minority groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands with migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.

The latest clashes between gangs of Muslim Hausas and mostly Christian youths began early on Friday and were provoked by a local government chairmanship election after news spread that the ANPP party candidate backed by Hausas had lost the race.

Results showed the ruling PDP party candidate won but his swearing in, originally due on Monday, has been postponed.










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