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55 Dead in Latest Nigeria Clashes - 2002-02-04

Ethnic clashes in Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, have continued to spread Monday, prompting the government to deploy troops in parts of the city. Nigerian Red Cross officials now say the fighting between Hausa-speaking groups and ethic Yorubas, which began Saturday, has killed at least 55 people.

The fighting has pitted Hausa-speaking northerners against ethnic Yorubas from the southwest two groups with a long history of conflicts.

Clashes broke out Saturday in Lagos' Idi Araba area following a dispute between members of the two groups. It is not clear what touched off the clashes. Members of the two groups attacked each other with guns and machetes and set fire to homes, shops, and vehicles.

Calm returned briefly on Sunday after police went into the neighborhood and made a number of arrests. Once officers left, however, witnesses say clashes erupted again in Idi Araba. By late Monday, the fighting had spread to other districts in the north of the city, including Mushin, Suru-Lere, and Fadeyi, prompting hundreds of people to flee their homes. Witnesses say a number of buildings have been set on fire.

Some schools closed and sent students home amid fears that fighting would continue to spread.

Lagos state governor Bola Tinubu said he had instructed security forces to in his words - deal decisively with the violence, adding that "enough is enough."

The latest unrest is occurring at a time when tensions are already high in Nigeria Africa's most populous nation.

The country had just on Saturday resolved its first-ever police strike, which had forced banks and other businesses to shut down across the country Friday. Police officials on Monday confirmed all officers had returned to work. Authorities have vowed to punish those who were involved in organizing the stoppage.

The government is also trying to deal with the aftermath of last week's explosions at a munitions depot that killed more than 1,000 people. Many Nigerians have questioned why the military was storing high power explosives in a densely populated neighborhood. Some including soldiers who lost their homes in the blasts - have criticized what they say was the government's slow and disorganized response to the needs of thousands of people who were left homeless as a result of the blasts.

The latest problems have caused pressure to build on President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is widely expected to run for re-election next year. Mr. Obasanjo took office in 1999, restoring civilian rule to the country following years of military government.