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Nigeria

Ethnic clashes kill dozens in central Nigeria

Clashes between Christian and Muslim ethnic groups have taken dozens of lives in Central Nigeria. The violence allegedly began when a Christian funeral procession marched through a Muslim neighborhood chanting slogans.

Local authorities confirmed on Saturday that at least 24 people had been killed in clashes between Christian and Muslim mobs in Nigeria's Taraba state, precipitating a round-the-clock curfew in the remote rural town of Wukari.

According to local residents, the deadly clashes broke out on Friday, when the predominantly Christian Jukun ethnic group held a funeral procession for a tribal chief in a neighborhood populated by the mostly Muslim Hausa Fulani ethnic group. Members of the funeral procession chanted slogans, which Muslim residents reportedly viewed as a provocation.

"There was fighting between some Christian and Muslim mobs yesterday in Wukari during the funeral procession of a traditional ruler, but the situation has been brought under control by security personnel, and we are awaiting a comprehensive report on the situation," said Taraba state police spokesman Joseph Kwaji.

Tensions have been on the rise in Wukari since February, when a dispute over the use of a soccer pitch between Christian and Muslim teams sparked violence, killing more than 20 people. Wukari is located some 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the state capital, Jalingo.

HRW: government 'cover up'

Friday's violence also comes amid escalating clashes between government forces and the Islamist insurgency group, Boko Haram.

In late April, fierce fighting between government troops and Boko Haram gunmen in the northeastern town of Baga left 187 people dead, according to the Red Cross. It was the deadliest single episode of violence since Boko Haram's insurgency began in 2009.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) published satellite imagery of Baga on Wednesday, showing widespread destruction in the village. HRW expressed concern that the military "tried to cover up" abuses and called for the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate.

The rights group also says that the Boko Haram insurgency in north and central Nigeria has claimed 3,600 lives since 2009, which includes killings by government security forces.

Nigeria has a population of 160 million people and is home to more than 250 different ethnic groups. The West African nation is 50 percent Muslim and 40 percent Christian, with the remaining 10 percent of the population practicing indigenous beliefs.

slk/jlw (AFP, AP)