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Violence Over Miss World Pageant In Kaduna, Spreads to Capital - 2002-11-22

Violence involving Christians and Muslims has erupted for a third day in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna. Red Cross officials say more than 100 people have been killed and at least another 500 people have been injured as mobs burned churches, looted stores and attacked bystanders with clubs and machetes. The riots were sparked by opposition to the Miss World Beauty Contest to be held in Abuja next month.

VOA's reporter in Kaduna, Ishaka Aliyu, says homes in the Kaduna neighborhood of Kabala were attacked early Friday by an angry mob. Residents told our reporter that youths carrying guns and machetes rampaged for over two hours, setting homes ablaze and looting properties. Witnesses say many people were killed or injured, but exact casualty figures in the latest unrest are not yet clear.

One resident said the attack started just after seven o'clock in the morning. He said "we just woke in the morning and they took us by surprise. They killed our brothers. They pressed my father down and slaughtered him. They burnt our houses and we don’t know where to live now. All my brothers were killed."

A mother said one teenage son is missing and another has been shot and is in critical condition. She said "Look at the way we slept since yesterday, we could not eat and can't do anything. They were just pursuing us up and down. They shot him and I don’t know where they say they carried him to now."

Gunshots could be heard in the streets of Kaduna while that interview was being conducted.

Meanwhile, there were dead bodies on the streets. Heavily armed service personnel have been deployed in a bid to restore order and remove the corpses.

The injured are being treated at Kaduna Teaching Hospital and Barau Dikko.

Some of the injured said the attackers are neighborhood youths known to most of them. One person said " The truth of the matter is that these are boys we live with and these are people we assist when they are in need. The bottom line is that we can identify them."

A wife of an injured school teacher explained what happened to her husband from his hospital bed. She said " We were just indoors and when they were coming, we tried to send them back. The men were outside trying to prevent them from entering the compound and they attacked. They wanted to kill him. These are mostly children, teenagers of fifteen to eighteen years of age. They were carrying long knives and guns and matchetes."

The Kaduna State Government Security Committee says it is working to restore calm. It has announced a relaxation of the dusk-to-dawn curfew, saying the situation is returning to normal.

Our reporter says it was still difficult to go in and out of Kaduna later Friday as violence continued on the outskirts of the city.

Meanwhile, in Abuja, violent protestors took to the streets after Friday prayers at the city's mosques. Witnesses says bands of Muslim youths barricaded roads, set fires to shops, and smashed car windows in the center of the Nigerian capital.

Demonstrators shouted angry slogans, calling for a cancellation of the Miss World Pageant, which is due to take place in the city next month.

Violence began in Kaduna earlier in the week after a newspaper published an article saying the Muslim prophet Mohammed would have probably taken one of the Miss World contestants as his wife. The newspaper has since apologized for publishing the article.

Organizers of the pageant say the contest, scheduled for December 7th, will go on as scheduled.

Kaduna is a largely Muslim city, but with a sizable Christian minority. It was the scene of bloody religious clashes two years ago in which more two thousand people were killed.

The streets of Abuja were reported calm Friday evening. English to Africa reprter Gilberta Da Costa says security forces have restored order in the city, after apparently being caught off-guard by the violence.