Rioters armed with machetes and shotguns roamed the streets of the predominately Christian city of Onitsha in the south of the country on Wednesday.

There were three more deaths on Wednesday, with residents saying that gangs took to the streets apparently seeking revenge for a Muslim attack on a Christian primary school.

The wave of violence began in the northern city of Maiduguri on Saturday after protests against Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad spread and 30 churches were razed to the ground. Eighteen people, mostly Christians, were killed.

Similar sectarian violence recurred on Monday and Tuesday in the northern city of Bauchi, where Red Cross officials say 25 people were killed when Muslim mobs attacked Christians.

Mosques burned

 

Anti-riot police guard gate to
Katsina State secretariat

In Onitsha, residents and witnesses said two mosques were burned down and least 30 people were killed on Tuesday, most of them northern Muslims. Several local newspapers reported 30 to 35 dead as a result of the violence, apparently a response to the earlier attacks on Christians.

Thousands of Muslims, originally from the north of the country, fled to the city’s military barracks.

One Onitsha resident, Isotonu Achor, said: "There are reports that some of the northerners attacked a primary school near the barracks this morning and killed some children".

"Schools have quickly closed and thousands of people carrying machetes, some with guns, are rushing toward the military barracks. It could be bloody," he said.

Religious divide

Chris Ngige, the region's governor, appearing on television on Tuesday night, said he had ordered police reinforcements for the mainly trading city and declared a
dusk-to-dawn curfew.

Bauchi's governor, Adamu Muazu, said on Tuesday night that the violence was fuelled by allegations that a Christian school teacher had desecrated the Quran. He said the allegations proved unfounded.

Muslim-Christian tensions have
again flared in Nigeria

Nigeria, with more than 130 million people, is Africa's most populous country. It is roughly divided between a predominantly Muslim north and a mainly Christian south.

Thousands of people have died in religious violence since 2000.

Archbishop Peter Akinola said that it was disturbing that cartoons published in Denmark "could elicit such an unfortunate reaction in Nigeria" and alleged it was part of a plot by unnamed people to Islamise Nigeria.

"It is no longer a hidden fact that a long-standing agenda to make this Nigeria an Islamic nation is being surreptitiously pursued," Akinola said. He said it may no longer be possible to restrain restive Christian youths.