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More Than 500 Dead in Ethnic Clashes as Nigerians Head to the Polls

More Than 500 Dead in Ethnic Clashes as Nigerians Head to the Polls

Number of dead could rise as Christian and Muslims fight for control.

Published April 25, 2011

An unidentified man walks past the destroyed Zonkwa market in Zonkwa, Nigeria. (Photo: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Ahead of Nigeria’s state governors’ vote Tuesday, many fear that the violence that’s already claimed more than 500 lives since the recent presidential elections could escalate.

Religious tensions are running high in light of last week’s riots across the Muslim north after Christian President Goodluck Jonathan was declared the winner in the election. Mobs set fire to houses where election workers were staying, and young female poll staffers were raped while charred corpses lined highways, reports the Associated Press.

Tomorrow’s election vote is the final ballot in Nigeria. Earlier this month, people went to the polls to cast ballots in legislative and presidential elections that ultimately resulted in about 40,000 people fleeing their homes. Election officials postponed the governors' races in the two northern states hardest hit by postelection violence but vowed to press ahead with ballots elsewhere, writes the AP.

Twenty-nine states will hold their gubernatorial elections Tuesday, along with federal legislative voting that had been delayed.

The violence in Nigeria has been unrelenting. An explosion was reported Monday at a cattle market in the northeast town of Maiduguri, which has long been wracked by violence related to a radical Islamic sect. There were no casualties from that blast, police chief Mike Zuokumor said. "The enemies of Nigeria are scaring people from coming out to vote," he told the AP.

Nigeria’s Civil Rights Congress told the BBC that more than 500 people have died since the April 16 vote that pitted Goodluck Jonathan against Muslim Muhammadu Buhari. After Jonathan was declared winner last Monday with 22 million votes, riots broke out in the Muslim north as Buhari supporters of contested the result.  The West African nation is bitterly divided between the mostly Christian south, where Jonathan is from, and the mostly Muslim north, where Buhari is from.

Rioters alleged vote-rigging when Jonathan’s victory was announced, setting churches ablaze and launching retaliatory attacks. Although Buhari himself publically cast doubt on the results last week, he denied his comments added any fuel to the what he called the “sad, unfortunate and totally unwarranted” violence, the BBC reports.

The question remains whether the government will be able to reassure people that it is safe to go to the polls when there are daily reports of attacks related to the presidential vote.

Written by Hortense M. Barber

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