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Obasanjo Assesses Riot Damage in Kano - 2001-10-16

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has visited his country's second-largest city, Kano, to assess the damage from two days of deadly rioting between Muslims and Christians. The Nigerian Red Cross says more than 100 people were killed in the violence, which followed an anti-American demonstration.

President Obasanjo flew directly from Paris to Kano Tuesday, after attending a UNESCO conference in the French capital.

The president visited military barracks, where hundreds of Kano residents displaced by the riots have found refuge. Mr. Obasanjo blamed the violence on what he called jobless "hoodlums" bent on looting and mindless destruction.

He insisted the government will stand up to what he called "lawlessness" and "irresponsibility," and promised to try to create more jobs for the poor.

However, religious tensions, always a matter of concern in ethnically diverse northern Nigeria, were clearly on the president's mind. Mr. Obasanjo said Islam is a religion of peace, adding it is essential not to confuse it with terrorism.

Mr. Obasanjo has expressed support for the Bush administration's efforts to form an anti-terrorist coalition. He has said the international community must combat terrorism vigorously and, at the same time, make clear that U.S.-led air strikes against radical Islamic militant Osama bin Laden do not constitute an attack on Muslims.

The two-day riots in Kano began Friday, after a Muslim youth organization held a rally to denounce U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Although Mr. Obasanjo says joblessness is responsible for the riots, fire gutted several mosques and churches in Kano and thousands of Christians have fled the Muslim-dominated city.

Mr. Obasanjo denounced religious rioting last month, after clashes between Christians and Muslims in the central city of Jos claimed at least 165 lives. The Nigerian president said people who truly believe in God do not burn places of worship.