Protest In Central Nigerian City After Muslims Killed

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Nigerian soldiers fired into the air to disperse youths burning vehicles and tyres in the central city of Jos on Saturday in protest at the killing of seven Muslims in a nearby village, residents said.

The Muslims were on their way back from a wedding when they were attacked late on Friday after their bus got lost near a predominantly Christian village which was at the centre of ethnic and religious clashes last year, witnesses said.

"We received a report ... that youths blocked the road and attacked them inside their bus, killing seven people, while one escaped," said Ahmed Garba, an official from Nigeria's Muslim umbrella group Jama'atu Nasril Islam. Initial reports said all eight had been killed.

Muslim youths set up burning barricades in parts of the Kwararasa neighbourhood of Jos when news of the attack on the bus spread, but a military taskforce which has been policing the city since last year's unrest was able to disperse them.

Garba said one youth was killed in the rioting and his body had been taken to the local mosque. The streets were deserted by nightfall as soldiers patrolled, residents said.Plateau state, of which Jos is the capital, lies in Nigeria's "Middle Belt" where the mostly Muslim north meets the largely Christian south. The region is seen as a potential flashpoint ahead of nationwide elections in April.

Hundreds of people died in clashes between Muslim and Christian mobs in the region early last year and there have been frequent outbreaks of violence since then.The tension is rooted in decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands and for economic and political power with migrants and settlers from the north.

President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, faces a tough election battle with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a northerner, and some analysts fear the national debate could become polarised around north-south rivalries.

Jonathan's candidacy is controversial because of an agreement in the ruling party that power should rotate between the north and the south every two terms.

Jonathan inherited the presidency after his predecessor, northerner Umaru Yar'Adua, died last year during his first term and some in the ruling party say only a northerner can serve what should have been Yar'Adua's second term.

Nigeria has been shaken by violence in recent weeks, including a New Year's eve bomb blast near an army barracks in Abuja a week after a series of blasts and subsequent clashes killed 80 in Jos.