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Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 15:51 GMT
Benin alert over 'penis theft' panic
Mopeds in Cotonou
Illiteracy rates are high and many are very superstitious
The authorities in Benin have ordered security forces to curb violence in the commercial capital, Cotonou, following the deaths of five people by vigilantes

There have been reports of at least 10 such attacks since Saturday.

Four of those who died were burned, another man was hacked to death.

Correspondents say that mobs have attacked indivduals accused of using magic to steal men's penises.

The belief that men's private parts can mysteriously disappear through a handshake or an incantation is commonplace in Benin where superstition and illiteracy are rife.

Stripped naked

The BBC's Karim Okanla in Cotonou says these attacks begin by someone screaming that that they have been robbed of their penis.

An angry mob would then descend on any passer-by deemed to look suspicious, strip them naked and then douse them in petrol before setting them alight.

No one in the crowd would stop to question their actions or ask whether the accused might possess magical powers, he says.

Our correspondent adds that there have been some lucky escapes for people.

An angry mob almost necklaced a photojournalist who happened to be passing by whilst a crowd was hunting for a suspect.

Another example, he says, was when a high school principal narrowly escaped death, after a mob objected to him sheltering a man they had been chasing in his school.

One report said three of the people torched were foreigners.

See also:

25 Mar 01 | Africa
Benin president re-elected
21 Mar 01 | Africa
Benin poll further undermined
12 Mar 01 | Africa
Run-off for Benin
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Benin
20 Nov 01 | Africa
Benin's mystery moped murders
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