Thursday, September 21, 2006

Nigerian Christians flee to police after Muslim rioters burn churches, homes

Africa: Via AP.

Hundreds of Christians sought refuge at police headquarters in a predominantly Muslim Nigerian town Thursday after rioters protesting alleged blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad attacked and burned churches, Christian homes and businesses, residents and police said. Violence broke out in Dutse, the capital of Nigeria's northern Jigawa state, Wednesday after thousands of Muslim youth poured out on the streets to protest alleged blasphemy by a Christian woman, resident Emeka Nworah said. It was unclear what the offensive statement was that sparked the rioting. Some said it was a market dispute, while others said she made a statement against Muhammad days earlier. Several churches, homes and businesses belonging to the city's minority Christians were set ablaze and destroyed in the rampage. Police confirmed the violence. "The disturbances are unfortunate but the situation is now under control," senior police official Kieran Dudari told reporters. No deaths were reported but residents said many people were injured. Six churches were burnt, along with an unspecified number of homes and shops, police said. Nworah was among Dutse residents who escaped to Kano in search of transportation to their home states in the mainly Christian south. More than 1,000 people, mainly Christians, were still camped in the open field at state police headquarters in Dutse on Thursday, too scared to go back to their homes, witnesses and police said. Nigeria 's 130 million people are roughly split between a south dominated by Christians and a north mainly populated by Muslims, with sectarian violence breaking out often. Thousands of Nigerians have died in sectarian strife since 2000, when mostly Muslim northern states began implementing Islamic Shariah law. Earlier this year, more than 120 people were killed in attacks across the country sparked by Muslim protests over cartoons published in Europe caricaturing Prophet Muhammad.

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