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Sunday, 24 November, 2002, 14:49 GMT
Nigeria riots toll 'passes 200'
Security forces use teargas to disperse crowd
Thousands have fled the clashes
More than 200 people are now known to have died in violence between Christians and Muslims in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, relief and civil rights workers say.

The figure which emerged after four days of disturbances linked to the now-relocated Miss World beauty contest is double the previous estimate.

Muslim women walks past destroyed Kaduna church
Churches and mosques were attacked
In addition to 215 bodies counted on the streets and in mortuaries, others were thought to have been buried by their families, Nigerian Red Cross president Emmanuel Ijewere was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

He added that there had been more killings overnight, despite the curfew imposed on the city where security forces have been trying to contain the situation.

The BBC's Yusuf Sarki Muhammad in Kaduna says the figures are credible and could even be on the low side.

He says heavily-armed soldiers and policemen have taken over all street corners and that motorists are being stopped and searched.

Thousands have been displaced by the violence which was sparked by a newspaper article about the Miss World pageant which has now been called off in Nigeria.

The venue was hastily switched to London hours after the disturbances spread to the Nigerian capital Abuja.

Beauty queens - who had spent 10 days attending preliminary events mainly in Christian, southern areas of Nigeria - arrived in London on Sunday aboard a specially chartered plane.

They expressed their relief at having escaped the violence.

The competition is scheduled to go ahead on 7 December.

'No provocation'

A tense calm was reported on Sunday in Kaduna, which has a large Christian minority.

People were venturing out timidly to try to find food in local markets and some to attend church services, AP reports.

I salute the courage of the contestants. They came all the way here despite the conspiracy of the international press

Nigerian Information Minister Jerry Gana
Violence subsided on Saturday as soldiers enforced a night-time curfew.

It is estimated that more than 1,000 have been injured and more than 11,000 made homeless in the clashes.

Civil rights activists said more than 20 churches and 8 mosques have been burned down in the city as well as a number of hotels.

They also said there had been allegations that some members of the security forces had killed civilians without provocation.

The troubles began with a protest by Muslims in Kaduna last Wednesday over a newspaper article they saw as trivialising their objections to the contest, and escalated on Thursday when the worst of the violence appears to have taken place.

Press 'conspiracy'

Nigeria won the right to stage the pageant after Nigerian Agbani Darego was crowned Miss World 2001 - the first black African to win the title.

Ben Maray, the chairman of the Nigerian organising committee, said a huge opportunity to showcase Nigeria had been lost.

Nigeria's Information Minister Jerry Gana pointed a finger at the foreign and domestic media for his country's failed attempt to host the competition.

Contestants in an Abuja hotel
Miss World contestants: Some pulled out earlier

"I salute the courage of the contestants. They came all the way here despite the conspiracy of the international press... particularly the British press," he said on state radio.

"There's an international conspiracy just to show that an African country like Nigeria cannot host this thing. I think Nigerians should be really angry with the international press," he said, according to the French news agency AFP.

He also criticised the Lagos-based ThisDay newspaper, which published the article which offended Muslims and sparked the violence.

ThisDay said its editor had been detained by police and that the reporter who wrote the article had resigned.

The article, which the paper retracted and repeatedly publicly apologised for, suggested that the Prophet Mohammed would have probably chosen to marry one of the Miss World contestants had he witnessed the beauty pageant.

Two years ago, Kaduna saw more than 2,000 deaths in clashes between Christians and Muslims.

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The BBC's Dan Isaacs
"The hospitals are struggling to cope with the injured"

Miss World row




Turning ugly
Miss World: Was it right to quit Nigeria?
See also:

24 Nov 02 | Africa
23 Nov 02 | Africa
24 Nov 02 | Media reports
22 Nov 02 | Africa
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