LAGOS, November 29 – Hundreds were killed and thousands forced to flee their homes in the central Nigerian city of Jos when Christians and Muslims clashed over the result of a local election, witnesses said on Saturday.
"I was at the central mosque this afternoon and I counted 378 dead bodies but just as I was about to leave, three more bodies were brought in," a correspondent for Radio France Internationale in Jos, Aminu Manu, told AFP, adding that families were coming forward to claim their dead relatives.
"Hundreds of people have been killed in the last two days since the riots started. Remains of burned bodies litter some parts of the town; it is so terrible," Christian clergyman Yakumu Pam said.
Local Radio Plateau said the governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, had placed four districts of the city placed under a curfew and ordered police to fire on anyone who broke it following the clashes on Friday.
There was no confirmation of the death toll from any official source.
Aminu Manu said violence was still being reported in the city on Saturday. He said he saw around 300 youths, a mixture of Muslims and Christians, who had been arrested for taking part in the riots and who were at police headquarters.
He also reported having seen around 100 people with gunshot wounds who said they had been shot by the security forces.
Another Jos-based reporter for the Punch newspaper had told AFP on Friday he counted 55 bodies in three hospitals.
Aminu Manu said the bodies in the hospitals are thought to be those of Christians and those in the mosque Muslims.
"So far over 10,000 people have been displaced from their homes and are now seeking refuge in churches, mosques and army and police barracks," a Nigerian Red Cross official in Jos said.
"I can’t give any figures but there are dead bodies on the streets that are yet to be evacuated. We are afraid of an outbreak of an epidemic if they are allowed to decompose," he told AFP.
"In these places where people are taking refuge, there is no water and no food. We call on the Nigerian emergency management agencies to come to their aid," he added.
On Friday night Red Cross spokeswoman Umo Okon told AFP from Abuja that there were "over 300 injured" in different health centres in the town. She declined to estimate the number of dead.
A brief government statement late on Friday said that President Umaru Yar’Adua had sent in army troops to contain the situation.
Local residents said several churches and mosques were razed in the violence, which started with a rumour that the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) had lost the election to the federal ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
The ANPP is perceived locally to be a predominantly Muslim party, and the PDP to be mainly Christian.
Jos is the administrative capital of Plateau state. It was the scene of a week of violence between Christians and Muslims in September 2001 that also left hundreds dead.