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Nigeria: Homes set ablaze in violence-torn region

Rioters set homes ablaze and angry youths armed with machetes set up roadblocks Sunday throughout a central Nigerian city plagued by violence between Christians and Muslims, witnesses said.

Witnesses heard gunshots and saw smoke rising Sunday afternoon from a southern neighborhood in the city of Jos, where more than 500 people died last year.

The latest rioting comes after 11 people died Saturday around Jos from religious violence and a political rally gone awry.

Meanwhile, police in a city in northeast Nigeria are investigating a mass shooting at an illicit beer garden that left eight people dead and four others wounded.

In Jos, families hid inside homes or wherever they could find shelter from the violence Sunday. Local lawyer Kwampkur Samuel Bondip said he was trapped inside a church with his family after Muslim youths blocked the road and began attacking passers-by.

Danlami Mohammed, an official with a local Muslim organization, said the youths began rioting after finding arsonists had burned homes in their neighborhood overnight.

Police officers and soldiers struggled to keep the violence under control.

"We have deployed our men to control the situation," said Plateau state police commissioner Abdurrahman Akano.

Sunday's violence appeared to be a reaction to other attacks over the weekend. Christian youths attacked a car full of Muslims returning from a wedding in central Nigeria on Friday night, killing seven people inside the vehicle and sparking retaliatory violence that left one other person dead, an official said Saturday. Another three people were killed and several others were wounded when a meeting of a political party aligned with former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari collapsed into violence, witnesses said.

Nigeria, an oil-rich country of 150 million people, is almost evenly split between Muslims in the north and the predominantly Christian south. Jos is in the nation's "middle belt," where dozens of ethnic groups vie for control of fertile lands.

The Jos violence, though fractured across religious lines, often has more to do with local politics, economics and rights to grazing lands. The government of Plateau state, where Jos is the capital, is controlled by Christian politicians who have blocked Muslims from being legally recognized as citizens. That has locked many out of prized government jobs in a region where the tourism industry and tin mining have collapsed in the last decades.

On Christmas Eve, two bombs went off near a large market in Jos where people were doing last-minute Christmas shopping. A third hit a mainly Christian area of Jos, while the fourth was near a road that leads to the city's main mosque.

Officials initially said at least 32 died from the blasts, while an official with the National Emergency Management Agency told journalists that he had counted 80 deaths from the explosions and the retaliatory violence that followed.

An Internet message attributed to a radical Muslim sect known in northern Nigeria as Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the bomb attacks. However, the sect had never carried out an attack in that region before.

Meanwhile, witnesses say gunmen stormed an illicit, outdoor bar Friday night in Gombe, a city in northeast Nigeria. The state is one of a dozen in Nigeria that implements Islamic Shariah law, which bans the consumption of alcohol. Most states, however, have hidden spots where locals can drink.

The gunmen opened fire on those drinking there, initially killing seven people, authorities said. An eighth person died while receiving hospital care. Gombe state police spokesman Usman Kamba said the dead included customers and the woman running the bar.

Police acknowledged confusion still surrounded the attack.

"Some say the attackers came wearing turbans, some say they covered faces, while others say came on high speed motorcycles, but the police (are) working on all options," Kamba said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though members of Boko Haram have made attacks there in the past.

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Associated Press writers Saadatu Muhammad Awak and Shehu Saulawa in Gombe, Nigeria contributed to this report.

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