Sunday, January 8, 2012

Nigeria Christians Warn Attacks Reminder Of Civil War Run-up

01/08/2012 Nigeria (AFP)-The head of Nigeria’s Christians has warned that attacks on the faithful that have killed more than 80 people suggest "religious cleansing" and compared it to the run-up to the 1960s civil war. The intensifying violence as well as warnings from Christian leaders that they will defend themselves come at a crucial moment for Nigeria, with the country also facing nationwide strikes on Monday over soaring fuel prices.

The stark warning from Ayo Oritsejafor, head of the Christian Association of Nigeria, on Saturday came with at least six gun and bomb attacks targeting Christians since Christmas having killed more than 80 people. Attacks have seen victims gunned down while their eyes were closed in prayer in church, caught up in a gruesome bomb blast while leaving Christmas services and shot while gathering to mourn the death of a friend.

In the latest violence, residents said gunmen shot dead three people believed to be Christians as they were playing poker on Saturday night in the northeastern town of Biu. Islamist group Boko Haram has claimed most of the violence, which has sparked fears of a wider religious conflict in a country whose 160 million population is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.

A purported spokesman for the group a week ago gave Christians living in the north a three-day ultimatum to leave the region. In claiming subsequent attacks, the spokesman said they were in response to the ultimatum.
At mass on Sunday in the capital Abuja, worshippers were frisked and made to pass through metal detectors upon entry — measures that have been in place for several weeks. In the economic capital Lagos, which has not been hit by attacks, churchgoers were told to be on alert for any suspicious movements.

Oritsejafor said on Saturday that Christians would defend themselves, though he added that he was not advocating reprisals. An emergency meeting of church heads concluded "that the pattern of these killings does suggest to us a systematic ethnic and religious cleansing," he said.

"We are reminded by the occurrences of these killings of the genesis of the civil war that took place here in Nigeria."

The run-up to Nigeria’s 1967-70 civil war that left more than a million dead saw Igbos, who are overwhelmingly Christian, massacred in the country’s north. An attack Friday in the northeastern town of Mubi was a frightening reminder for many of the pre-civil war days, with 17 people gunned down as they gathered to mourn the death of an Igbo killed the night before. Muslim leaders have reported that Muslims based in the southern Niger Delta region have started leaving the area in apparent fear of reprisal.

Bombings on Christmas, particularly one that killed 44 people as services ended at a Catholic church near Abuja, sparked outrage.

A number of the recent attacks, including in Mubi and in the cities of Yola and Gombe, have occurred in areas outside the emergency decree. It launched an uprising in 2009 that was put down by a brutal military assault in which some 800 people were killed. Since the group re-emerged in 2010, it has been blamed for increasingly sophisticated attacks, including the August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja that killed 25.

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