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Troops Guard Ethnically-Mixed Nigerian City - 2002-02-10

Nigerian troops remain deployed in the northern city of Kano, amid fear that violence may spread from ethnic clashes last week in the main city, Lagos.

The ancient city of Kano has been traditionally dominated by Hausa-speaking Muslims. There is a sizeable minority of people from southern Nigeria, most of whom are Christian.

Living in separate quarters of the city, the two groups have historically had a relationship of peaceful coexistence, until recent years when deadly clashes have broken out on several occasions.

Tensions have been especially high since 2000, when Kano State joined a handful of others in adopting the strict Islamic code known as sharia.

Fighting in Lagos last week pitted ethnic Yorubas, who are indigenous to southern Nigeria, against Hausa northerners. More than 100 people were killed in the fighting, which spanned four days.

Nigerian authorities deployed troops in Kano out of concern that the attacks in Lagos would prompt revenge killings of southerners in the northern city.

Heavily armed soldiers with armored vehicles remained on patrol outside the Kano's central mosque. The street outside the mosque entrance is where past clashes have begun, usually after Friday afternoon prayers.

Many people in Kano say they welcomed the troops' presence. Taxi driver Mike Balogun, a southerner, says tensions between native northerners and people from the south has been high in the Kano, following the Lagos clashes.

He believed that having the troops around has served as a deterrent against those who want to take to the streets to fight. "It is very good, because if they did not send the soldiers, then the next thing you would see after the fighting in Lagos is they would now come to attack all the southerners. The military have been ruling this country for a long time, and they are afraid of the military because they will not stop. If they say they will shoot, they will shoot on sight. They do not respect the police, because the police are not properly equipped," said taxi driver Mike Balogun.

Despite his saying that he feels safer with the military presence, Mr. Balogun says he does not wish to see a return of military government in Nigeria. Military rule ended in 1999, when President Olusegun Obasanjo was elected as the country's first civilian leader in nearly 16 years.

The ethnic fighting last week put added pressure on the Obasanjo government. The president on Thursday warned an escalation of violence could derail democracy.

Nigeria, with more than 250 ethnic groups and an estimated 126 million people, is Africa's most populous nation.