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Miss World Contestants Leave Nigeria

November 24, 2002|From Associated Press

ABUJA, Nigeria — Miss World contestants in bright summer dresses and tank tops left Nigeria for London early today after four days of sectarian violence left more than 100 people dead and forced the pageant to move.

Red Cross workers had recovered more than 100 bodies in Kaduna, a northern city of several million people with a history of Muslim-Christian violence. Nigerian Red Cross President Emmanuel Ijewere declined Saturday to give a precise death toll for fear of "inflaming the situation further."

Although Abuja, the capital, appeared calm Saturday, more than 400 people were hospitalized in Kaduna, about 100 miles to the north, with injuries suffered in the fighting, Ijewere said. At least 4,000 people were left homeless.

Pageant officials announced Friday that they were moving the contest to London, where it will be held Dec. 7, the same day it had been planned for Nigeria.

The decision was made "for the sake of the nation," pageant publicist Stella Din said. "Even though we believe this violence is not connected to us ... we didn't want any more bloodshed."

The clashes started Wednesday in Kaduna and spread Friday to Abuja, where the beauty contest was to have been held.

On Saturday, mobs of Christians attacked Muslims in southern neighborhoods of Kaduna "with new bitterness" because they viewed the pageant's cancellation as a "Muslim victory," Ijewere said.

In one neighborhood, Muslim and Christian mobs pursued each other with sticks and knives. As police tried to disperse the rioters with tear gas, gunshots also were heard.

At one point, dozens of buildings were burning, blazes apparently set by the mobs. A man's body lay in a gutter. Women fled the area carrying baggage.

Many other parts of Kaduna, however, were calm. Some residents who took refuge in police stations and army bases began returning to their shattered homes.

For months, Islamic groups had complained that the beauty pageant would promote promiscuity. Organizers insisted that the women never intended to offend anyone.

Tensions boiled over after a national newspaper suggested that the Islamic prophet Muhammad would have approved of the event. The paper published several apologies over the next few days.

But Muslims were deeply offended and riots erupted. President Olusegun Obasanjo said "irresponsible journalism" set off the turmoil.

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