Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Monday, February 20, 2006
At least 16 people were killed in the country's northern Borno state, and Muslim rioters also torched more than a dozen churches and businesses linked to Christians, according to police figures.
A Nigerian national daily newspaper, This Day, reported that Muslims armed with machetes, sticks and iron rods had ran amok in the state capital, Maiduguri, for about three hours before troops restored order.
"One group threw a tire around a man, poured gas on him and set him ablaze."
The victims included three children and a Catholic priest, and a representative of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Joseph Hayab, was quoted as saying some of the killings took place inside churches.
He also said troops had also shot dead "one or two" of the rioters.
Borno's Muslim state governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, said in a radio broadcast that those responsible for the violence would be punished.
He said he sympathized with the feelings of Muslims offended by the cartoons satirizing Mohammed - which were published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper last September and in many other papers in Europe and elsewhere this month - but that Nigerian Christians should not be blamed for them.
Borno is one of a dozen states in Nigeria that have imposed, or tried to impose, Islamic shari'a law, sparking tensions between Muslims and Christians.
Muslims comprise a small majority in Africa's most populous nation, which has witnessed violence in the past over perceived slights to Islam, such as a plan for the country to host the Miss World beauty pageant in 2002.
The This Day newspaper was caught up in that dispute after a columnist argued that the fuss was overblown and suggested that Islam's prophet -- if alive today -- would likely have approved of the contest and taken one of the beauty queens as a wife.
In the end the contest was relocated to Britain, but not before hundreds of people of both faiths were killed in rioting instigated by Muslims.
The violence in Nigeria occurred one day after lives were lost in another African nation, where Muslims focused their anger on the consulate of Italy in Libya's second city, Benghazi.
Italy was just one of numerous European countries whose newspapers have republished the 12 Jyllands-Posten cartoons, but some Libyan Muslims were additionally incensed when a conservative Italian government minister, Roberto Calderoli, appeared on television wearing a T-shirt depicting one of the cartoons.
Muslims in the former Italian colony across the Mediterranean gathered outside the Italian consulate, hurling rocks and bottles and settling part of the building ablaze, the official Libyan Jamahiriya broadcaster reported. At least 11 people were killed in clashes with police.
After being blamed for the violence, Calderoli resigned under pressure from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is running for re-election in April. Italian media reported on concerns of Islamist terror attacks during the campaigns such as those in Spain shortly before the country held elections in March 2004.
The Libyan government also fired its minister responsible for security, accusing him of "disproportionate force" against the protestors.
Libya was the first country to shut the Danish Embassy to protest the cartoons. Danish missions in Iran, Indonesia, Syria and, most recently, Pakistan all have been evacuated for safety reasons.
The weekend deaths bring to at least 35 the number of deaths arising out of the violence linked to the cartoons, including 11 in Afghanistan, five in Pakistan, one in Somalia and one in Lebanon.
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