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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 February 2006, 15:48 GMT
Bodies pile up after Nigeria riot
Policeman in Onitsha
Police have struggled to keep a lid on the violence
The city of Onitsha in south-eastern Nigeria is calm after two days of anti-Muslim riots left many dead.

Nigerian human rights workers say they have counted 80 bodies following two days of reprisal attacks by crowds of Christians armed with machetes.

They went on the rampage after the killing of more than 30 Christians in riots in two mainly Muslim towns in northern Nigeria at the weekend.

Thousands of Muslims in Onitsha fled or sought shelter in the army barracks.

Burnt corpses placed on tyres and set alight were still reported to be smouldering on the streets.

"Everything appears calm right now, but most people are staying back at home and are too scared to go out," a resident told AP news agency.


"We counted 60 bodies on Tuesday and 20 on Wednesday and there could be more," Emeka Umeh, head of the local chapter of the Lagos-based Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) told AFP news agency.

He said the victims had been slaughtered "with machetes, knives, metal objects, clubs and in some instances, even guns".

Major streets are littered with bodies of people killed today, most of them northerners
Onitsha resident Isotonu Achor
Once started, the violence in Onitsha was fuelled by rumours of possible Muslim retaliation.

The police sent reinforcements but this initially failed to stop the violence.

Police have imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

The BBC's Alex Last in Nigeria says the concern now is that the violence in Onitsha does not provoke retaliatory sectarian attacks in the mainly Muslim north.

Muslim leaders in northern Nigeria have called for calm.

But with tensions running high, containing the violence could prove difficult, our correspondent says.

The sectarian clashes have already become the worst experienced in Nigeria in two years.

Nigeria's 120 million people are roughly equally divided between Muslims from the north and Christians and animists in the south.

Relations between the two groups - and the country's many ethnic groups - are often tense. More than 10,000 people have been killed in communal clashes since 1999.


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