- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

KADUNA, Nigeria | Burned corpses with machete wounds lay in roads and smoke rose above this city where rioting broke out again this week among Muslim opposition supporters who were angered by the announcement that the Christian incumbent had won the presidential election.

On the outskirts of Kaduna, burned out minibuses and cars littered the highways, and at least six charred bodies could be seen. Skull caps and sandals were strewn nearby, left behind by those who frantically fled amid the chaos.

Authorities and aid groups have hesitated to release tolls from the riots across northern Nigeria lest they incite reprisal attacks, but the National Emergency Management Agency confirmed that there had been fatalities.

The Nigerian Red Cross said Tuesday that nearly 400 people had been wounded.

“We use this opportunity to plead with all our political leaders and religious leaders to condemn the acts so that our country will not witness such again,” President Goodluck Jonathan said Tuesday after electoral officials formally presented poll returns to him in the capital of Abuja. “Nobody wants to invest in a place [where] people fight, kill and destroy.”

Mr. Jonathan also suspended his interior minister this week, citing “a number of lapses in the political leadership of the ministry.”

On Monday, supporters of opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari set fire to homes of ruling party members in several areas across the north. Police said an angry mob also engineered a prison break.

In the northern town of Kano, the Rev. Lado Abdu said three churches had been set ablaze by angry demonstrators. An armed mob at a bus station also threatened another evangelical pastor before a Muslim man nearby spirited him to safety.

“What brought together religion and politics?” the Rev. Habila Sunday said in the local Hausa language. “I want to know why when politics happen do they burn churches?”

Thousands have been killed in religious violence in the past decade in Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous nation. But the roots of the sectarian conflict are often embedded in struggles for political and economic dominance.

While Christians and Muslims have shared the same soil in the nation for centuries, the election result showing the Christian president’s more than 10 million-vote lead over Mr. Buhari, a Musllim, spread accusations of rigging in a nation long accustomed to ballot-box stuffing.

The unrest is unlikely to subside soon as more elections loom Tuesday, said Sebastian Boe, an analyst with IHS Global Insight.

“Security forces in the north are unlikely to be able to pacify the region in the coming weeks, particularly as the state governorship and local assembly elections are due to go ahead on 26 April and are likely to rekindle animosity between supporters of rival political parties, as well as further highlighting and exacerbating religious and ethnic divisions,” he said.

Mr. Jonathan took office last year only after the country’s elected Muslim president died after a lengthy illness before his term ended, and many in the north still believe the ruling party should have put up a Muslim candidate instead in this year’s election.

Monday’s violence also was fueled by the economic despair in Nigeria’s arid north.

“The region has the worst unemployment, the most grinding poverty, the poorest education, and the shortest life expectancy of any region of Nigeria,” the newspaper Next said Tuesday in an editorial.

“So stark and repulsive is the poverty, and so thoroughly alienated have the people become, that even this contested election can be seen as little more than an outlet for the expression of deep-seated grievances.”

Nigeria has a long history of violent and rigged polls since it abandoned a revolving door of military rulers and embraced democracy 12 years ago.

After legislative elections earlier this month in the nation’s northeast, a hotel was set ablaze, a politician found dead and a polling station and vote-counting center bombed.

However, observers largely said Saturday’s presidential election appeared to be fair, with fewer cases of ballot box thefts than previous polls.

Election Chairman Attahiru Jega announced results Monday night that showed Mr. Jonathan won 22.4 million votes, compared to the 12.2 million votes of his nearest rival, the former military ruler Mr. Buhari.

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