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Nigerians Call for End to Surge in Gang Violence


In Nigeria's violence-plagued and oil-rich Niger Delta, unrest continues after one of the deadliest days in nearly a week of gang warfare. Police have confirmed nearly a dozen deaths since Monday and witnesses say that toll is likely to rise. Kari Barber reports from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar that some calling for stronger intervention by the government's security forces.

Gunfire continued to be heard across the city of Port Harcourt, following intense battles between rival gangs that left several people dead on Saturday.

Journalist Ibiba Don Pedro says the streets are empty and many people have fled the city.

"People are staying at home. A lot of people are moving out of their communities," he said. "But mostly people are lying low. I guess in the next few days we are going to see a lot of people moving out of Port Harcourt for safety in other places."

It is unclear what sparked the gunbattles that began Monday. In the past year militant groups have stepped up kidnappings of foreigners and staged an increasing number of attacks on oil facilities, reducing the country's output of oil.

Don Pedro says rival gangs are competing for power. She says this outbreak of gang violence is not a part of the Niger Delta people's struggle for greater control of the region's oil wealth, but a negative effect of young men becoming accustomed to violence.

Don Pedro says she is still tense after armed men fired on her office during a recent awards ceremony for the journalist. One security guard was injured.

"We cannot imagine bringing up our children in an atmosphere like this," added Pedro. "I think the federal government has to come in to act, and I expect the international community to put serious pressure on the federal government to take action and to declare a state of emergency in River State immediately."

Kennedy West of the Association for Non-Violence in the Niger Delta says the government needs to step up the force they are using to quell the fighting. Nigeria's Police Chief, Mike Okiro, has held meetings with local leaders to find a way to control the situation.

"This is not the kind of area where you use minimum force now. Because there is lawlessness in its peak. There is violence in its peak," said Okiro. "The violence is a result of people making money out of it."

While kidnappings of foreign oil workers and attacks on oil facilities have become common in the restive region, the violence has now spread to include kidnappings of non-oil workers, armed robbery and gang violence.

Kidnappings are increasingly being used by some armed groups as a way to make money.

Soon after taking office in May, President Umaru Yar'Adua released militant movement leader Asari Dokubo, a major demand of militant groups. But groups say they are still fighting for more control of the region's resources.

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