December 26, 2010 / 12:12 PM / 9 years ago

Religious clashes flare in central Nigeria

JOS, Nigeria (Reuters) - Clashes broke out between armed Christian and Muslim groups near the central Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, a Reuters witness said, after Christmas Eve bombings in the region killed more than 30 people.

Men, one of whom is holding a machete, runs along a dusty road in Nigeria's central city of Jos December 26, 2010. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Buildings were set ablaze and people were seen running for cover as the police and military arrived on the scene in an effort to disperse crowds. Injured people covered in blood were being dragged by friends and family to hospital.

The unrest was triggered by explosions on Christmas Eve in villages near Jos, capital of Plateau state, that killed at least 32 people and left 74 critically injured.

The Red Cross said on Saturday it was not in a position to state the total number of deaths caused by the explosions but confirmed that 95 were seriously injured in hospital.

Vice President Namadi Sambo will travel to Jos on Sunday.

“The vice president is on his way to Jos to make an effort to quell this crisis,” Sambo’s spokesman said.

The unrest has come at a difficult time for President Goodluck Jonathan, who is running a controversial campaign ahead of the ruling party’s primaries on January 13.

A ruling party pact says that power within the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) should rotate between the mostly Muslim north and largely Christian south every two terms.

In Rome, Pope Benedict condemned Christmas Day attacks on two Christian churches in northeast Nigeria and Italy’s foreign ministry said it would summon the Nigerian ambassador shortly to express its concern. Italy often backs the Vatican’s concern over religious violence against Catholics and other Christians.

“POLITICAL”

Jonathan is a southerner who inherited office when President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, died during his first term this year and some northern factions in the ruling party are opposed to his candidacy.

Jonathan faces a challenge from former Vice President Atiku Abubakar for the ruling party nomination, and some fear any unrest in Africa’s most populous nation will be exploited by rivals during campaigning.

The governor of Plateau state has said the bombings were politically motivated terrorism, aimed at pitting Christians against Muslims to start another round of violence.

Christians, Muslims and animists from a patchwork of ethnic groups live peacefully side by side in most Nigerian cities.

But hundreds of people died in religious and ethnic clashes at the start of the year in the central Middle Belt and there are fears politicians could try to stoke such rivalries as the elections approach.

Slideshow (7 Images)

The tensions are rooted in decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands and for economic and political power with mostly Muslim migrants and settlers from the north.

The African Union (AU) on Saturday released a statement condemning the Christmas Eve bombings and offered its condolences to the families of those who have died.

“(The AU) reaffirms the determination of the African Union to combat terrorism and to continue to support the efforts being deployed by Member States in this respect,” a statement from AU chairman Jean Ping said.

Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja, Aaron Maasho in Nairobi and Philip Pullella in Rome; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Louise Ireland and Mark Trevelyan

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