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Religious riots in Nigeria leave hundreds dead

[Episcopal News Service]  Soldiers were needed to quell skirmishes in the central Nigerian city of Jos where ethnic and religious conflict has claimed hundreds of lives. Houses, churches and automobiles were burned and it is estimated that 300 people might have died in the clashes between Muslims and Christians in early September. Hospital officials suggested that the government casualty figures would have to be adjusted upward, perhaps by hundreds of more victims.

Tension was running high before the riots, in the wake of the appointment of a Muslim politician as local coordinator of a federal program to alleviate poverty. Christians saw the appointment in a predominantly Christian community as an attempt to deprive them of religious freedom. The spark that set off the riots, however, was the Muslim practice of barricading roads on Fridays, the Muslim holy day. A Christian woman attempted to cross a barricaded street and that led to a scuffle that spread to other parts of the city.

'We are not only citizens of one nation but also children of one God,' scolded President Olusegun Obasanjo during a visit to Jos.

'Though tribe and tongue may differ, though religions may differ, in brotherhood we stand.' The president argued that Christians and Muslims needed each other and that 'there shall never be a time when our society shall be totally free from differences.' Nigerians must resolve their differences without resorting to violence, he added.

Religion should not be used as a tool for violence, said Sultan Alhaji Maccido, the spiritual leader of Nigeria's Muslims. 'No religion will encourage segregation, discrimination and suppression,' he said.