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Mobs in Nigeria Set Fire to Office, Churches and Bystanders, Killing 50

Rioting is triggered by a newspaper article that suggested Muhammad would've approved of the Miss World pageant.

November 22, 2002|From Associated Press

LAGOS, Nigeria — Angry mobs stabbed and set fire to bystanders Thursday in rioting that erupted after a newspaper suggested that Islam's founding prophet would have approved of the Miss World beauty pageant. At least 50 people were killed and 200 injured, aid officials said.

The demonstrators in the northern city of Kaduna burned churches and rampaged through the streets until hundreds of soldiers were deployed to restore calm and enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

"A lot of people died. We don't know yet exactly how many.... More than 50," said Emmanuel Ijewere, president of the Nigerian Red Cross.

Street demonstrations began Wednesday with the burning of an office of ThisDay newspaper in Kaduna after it published an article questioning Muslim groups that have condemned the Miss World pageant, to be held Dec. 7 in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Muslim groups say the pageant promotes sexual promiscuity and indecency.

"What would Muhammad think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from among" the contestants, Isioma Daniel wrote in Saturday's article.

The newspaper ran a brief front-page apology Monday, followed by a more lengthy retraction Thursday, saying the offending passage had run by mistake.

In Thursday's rioting, more than 50 people were stabbed, bludgeoned or burned to death and 200 were seriously injured, Ijewere said. He said at least four churches were destroyed.

Shehu Sani of the Kaduna-based Civil Rights Congress said he watched a crowd stab one young man, then force a tire filled with gasoline around his neck and burn him alive. Sani said he saw three other bodies elsewhere in the city.

Alsa Hassan, founder of another human rights group, Alsa Care, said he saw a commuter being dragged from his car and beaten to death.

Schools and shops hurriedly closed as hordes of young men, shouting, "Allahu akbar!" -- "God is great!" -- ignited makeshift street barricades made of tires and garbage, sending plumes of black smoke rising above the city. Others were heard chanting, "Down with beauty" and "Miss World is sin."

Hundreds of police and soldiers fired tear gas at protesters.

Miss World publicist Stella Din said pageant organizers hoped that calm would quickly return to Kaduna. "We are very, very sad that it has come to this -- even if there is a loss of one life, it makes us sad," she said.

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