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Religious Violence in Nigeria

Security was tight in northern Nigeria today, as armed police guarded mosques after days of religious rioting that have left hundreds dead and widespread destruction. While sparked by Christian opposition to the introduction of Sharia, or Muslim law, in the Nigerian state of Kaduna, most observers blame both sides for the rioting. Africa's most populous nation (115 million), Nigeria contains over 200 ethnic groups and is split almost evenly between a Muslim north and Christian south. Ironically, the violence can in part be traced to the return of democracy to Nigeria last year. Under the new and more open government led by President Olusegun Obasanjo, some of the Muslim-dominated states have taken steps to introduce Sharia. While the transition to Sharia passed peacefully in the overwhelmingly Muslim Zamfara state, Kaduna contains a sizable Christian majority who have reacted strongly at the mere prospect of the introduction of Islamic law. Previously circumspect on the issue, Obasanjo recently spoke out against Sharia, expressing doubts over whether it was compatible with the Nigerian constitution. In addition, Nigeria's Human Rights Law Service has also begun court proceedings to try to have Sharia declared unconstitutional in Zamfara. While order is slowly being restored in Kaduna, this issue will certainly remain in the forefront of Nigerian politics, as the governors of two more states have signed bills under which Sharia will come into effect in May, and two other states are actively considering taking similiar steps.
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