Anti-Miss World riots spread in Nigeria

By SOMEFUN ADEGBOYEGA   |   Nov. 22, 2002 at 3:49 PM

KADUNA, Nigeria, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- A day after riots left dozens dead and hundreds injured in the north central Nigerian city of Kaduna, fresh clashes broke out on Friday elsewhere in the country, according to Red Cross officials.

In recent weeks, Muslims in Nigeria have protested the hosting of the Miss World pageant in their country, because they consider the event immoral.

A local newspaper article on Saturday, which suggested that the prophet Mohammed would have approved of the pageant, apparently set off the riots.

On Friday, a spokesman for the Nigerian Red Cross said he could not confirm the number of dead from Thursday's violence but said that it was at least in the dozens.

Other estimates put the toll above 100, with several more dead in riots on Friday.

"The situation is very uneasy here," Red Cross spokesman Patrick Bawa told United Press International.

"We thought this afternoon that it would calm down because of the presence of law enforcement. But we are hearing about more riots that have spread several kilometers outside the city."

Groups of young Muslims on Friday also began riots in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, attacking people they thought were Christians with sticks and knives, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Nigerian authorities imposed a 24-hour curfew and called out about 10,000 soldiers in an effort to check further violence.

The newspaper ThisDay published a commentary Saturday that suggested Mohammed, the historical founder of Islam, would not be offended by the appearance of Miss World contestants -- rather, he might have chosen his wife from among them.

The dress and behavior of women has been a volatile issue in Nigeria, particularly between the mostly Christian south and mostly Muslim north. Traditional Sharia law had recently condemned a Nigerian woman to death by stoning for giving birth to an illegitimate child, but government authorities -- anxious to showcase Nigeria by hosting the pageant -- subsequently said the sentence would not be carried out.

ThisDay has published a series of apologies for the commentary this week, blaming a technical mistake, but their office in Kaduna was torched on Wednesday nonetheless.

News reports have recounted stories from witnesses who said they saw people dragged from vehicles and beaten, others stabbed or even put on fire. Several churches were among the property damaged or destroyed.

"Saturday 16 November was our error, for which we feel very sorry," ThisDay's management said in an open letter on Thursday. "We therefore seek the understanding of our Muslim brothers and sisters and sincerely hope that in the spirit of the holy month of Ramadan, and in the interest of our beloved country, Nigeria, we would show forgiveness and understanding."

The sultan of Sokoto, north of Kaduna, on urged Muslims nationwide on Friday to maintain the peace.

"The issue of blasphemy (in the ThisDay article) would be looked into by the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affiars," said Alhaji Mohammed Maccido, who is also the SCIA's president-general. "We are now in the sacred month of Ramadan, which is to be observed with peace and dedication to worship."

Bawa said Nigerian Red Cross volunteers have taken hundreds of wounded in the Kaduna riots to the hospital via private vehicles as well as ambulances.

About 90 Miss World contestants are reportedly safe in their Abuja hotel, and organizers have said the Dec. 7 pageant would go on.

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