Curfews as fresh unrest rocks two Nigerian citiesBy VICTOR ULASI | Tuesday, June 19 2012 at 18:25
Gunfire and rioting rocked two northern Nigerian cities Tuesday in a fresh round of unrest, prompting authorities to slap curfews on both after weekend violence killed 52 people.
The unrest broke out in the cities of Kaduna and Damaturu, adding to fears of spiralling violence in the country's north, where Islamist group Boko Haram's insurgency has been concentrated.
With anger boiling over among Christians after Sunday church attacks, there have been renewed concerns over whether the violence could lead to a wider sectarian conflict in a country, roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and mostly Christian south.
As President Goodluck Jonathan prepared to fly to Rio on Tuesday to attend a UN environmental summit, Vice President Namadi Sambo met security chiefs in the capital Abuja. Details of the meeting were not yet clear.
Three suicide bombings at churches in Kaduna state on Sunday killed at least 16 people and sparked reprisal violence by Christian mobs who roamed the streets of the state capital with machetes, burning mosques and killing dozens more.
On Tuesday in the city of Kaduna, the state capital, Muslims protested after alleging they were unable to claim the remains of those killed, according to a resident.
After relatives were turned away from a city morgue, protesters "poured into the streets ... burning Christian shops and attacking Christians ...," said the resident, adding that soldiers quickly arrived in the area.
Other residents spoke of tension in a number of neighbourhoods and reprisals by Muslims.
Red Cross spokesman Nwakpa O. Nwakpa told AFP that his teams deployed in Kaduna had alerted him to "ongoing protests".
Authorities had declared a round-the-clock curfew on Sunday in Kaduna before relaxing it the following day. The state reinstituted the all-day curfew on Tuesday.
Kaduna is a major city in Nigeria's north and includes a significant Christian population.
In Damaturu in the country's northeast, residents reported being confined to their homes due to gunfire in the Yobe State capital, which has previously been hit by heavy violence blamed on Boko Haram.
A senior official at a Damaturu hospital told AFP that the gunfire which broke out on Monday had caused casualties, but that the streets were too dangerous for rescue workers to move around.
"We have been holed up in the hospital since yesterday. We can't leave because it is not safe to go out. The morgue is empty now although there are dead bodies on the street," said the official, who requested anonymity.
"Fighting is still going on in some parts of the city and the streets are totally deserted."
Colonel Dahiru Abdussalam, commander of a military task force in Yobe State, said the Damaturu unrest started Monday after authorities arrested a Boko Haram suspect.
The arrest prompted other members of the group to respond by setting off explosives and shooting indiscriminately, he said.
As their insurgency has intensified, Boko Haram's demands have varied, prompting speculation that the group is composed of disparate cells, including a hardcore Islamist wing.
The extremists have previously said they intended to create an Islamic state across the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation of 160 million and the continent's largest oil producer. (AFP)
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