Page last updated at 17:53 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Nigeria riot city under control, says army chief

A Nigerian soldier stands in a building that was destroyed in resent violence at Jos
There is a 24-hour curfew in the city and the army is on patrol

The Nigerian army says it has regained control of the city of Jos, where fighting between Muslims and Christians in recent days has left scores dead.

Lt Col Shekari Galadima told the BBC the city was "very calm" as the army was enforcing a 24-hour curfew. He insisted there would be no more riots.

But a BBC reporter in the region says the violence has now spread to Pankshin town, 100km (60 miles) from Jos.

Religious officials said at least 265 people had died since Sunday.

Among the dead were said to be 65 Christians and 200 Muslims.

A Nigerian woman cries out after losing her son to violence in Jos
At least 265 people are believed to have died in Jos

Muhammad Tanko Shittu, a senior mosque official organising mass burials, gave a much higher death toll - telling Reuters news agency more than 350 Muslims had died.

He said the death toll had risen as workers retrieved bodies from areas outside the city of Jos on Wednesday.

The figures could not be independently verified.

Jos has been blighted by religious violence over the past decade with deadly riots in 2001 and 2008.

The city is in Nigeria's volatile Middle Belt - between the mainly Muslim north and the south where the majority is Christian or follow traditional religions.

Violence spreading

Col Galadima told the BBC's Network Africa programme that Jos city "has been brought under control tremendously".

Cars on fire in Jos

"Because of the 24-hour curfew imposed by the government, movement has been restricted so you cannot have any riots or any demonstrations going on," he said.

The Associated Press reported that soldiers with machine guns were patrolling in pick-up trucks and residents were stopping and raising their hands to show they were not a threat as the trucks passed.

Meanwhile, the BBC Hausa Service's Shehu Saulawa says the violence appears to have spread to the town of Pankshin.

On Wednesday morning, one resident of Pankshin told our reporter by telephone the fighting began at 2230 (2130 GMT) on Tuesday.

He said the unrest had continued into Wednesday morning but no soldiers could be seen on the streets.

Another family told the BBC they had fled the town to neighbouring Bauchi State to escape the violence.

But Plateau State spokesman Dan Manjang dismissed the accounts from Pankshin as "rumours".

'Little faith'

The Red Cross, which was unable to get into Jos on Tuesday, said its workers had begun to treat the wounded.

Nigeria map
Deadly riots in 2001 and 2008
City divided into Christian and Muslim areas
Divisions accentuated by system of classifying people as indigenes and settlers
Hausa-speaking Muslims living in Jos for decades are still classified as settlers
Settlers find it difficult to stand for election
Divisions also exist along party lines: Christians mostly back the ruling PDP; Muslims generally supporting the opposition ANPP

Rights groups have expressed fears that people are running short of food because they are confined to their homes as part of the 24-hour curfew.

And at least 5,000 people have fled the violence and are using army barracks and public buildings as temporary accommodation.

The Jos-based League for Human Rights said people have little faith in the security forces to restore order.

The group's Shamaki Gad told the BBC that no-one had been prosecuted for participating in previous religious and ethnic clashes.

Correspondents say such clashes in Nigeria are often blamed on sectarianism.

However, poverty and access to resources such as land often lie at the root of the violence.

It is unclear what the trigger was for the latest bout of violence, but there have been reports it started after football match.

Other reports suggested it began after an argument over the rebuilding of homes destroyed in the 2008 clashes.

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