At Least 30 Dead in Latest Nigerian Religious Riots

Muslim mobs brandishing machetes and clubs attacked Christians in the streets of Kano on Wednesday as security forces struggled to quell a two-day rampage to avenge a massacre of hundreds of Nigerian Muslims.

Police confirmed at least 30 killed in strife engulfing this northern city, where thousands — mostly minority Christians — cowered in army barracks and police stations as mobs attacked victims outside. Witnesses spoke of scores more slaughtered.

"I saw them put an old tire on his neck and set him ablaze," said a 30-year old Christian, Barry Owoyemi, of a dead Christian neighbor. Owoyemi was whisked to safety by police who fired guns in the air to scare away the attackers.

Authorities ordered police to shoot rioters on sight.

The rampage exploded Tuesday following a demonstration by thousands of Muslims protesting the slaying of up to 600 Muslims by a predominantly Christian ethnic group last week in the central Nigeria town of Yelwa (search).

The latest rioting threatened to send violence spiraling further. In an apparent response to Muslim attacks, a group of young Christians in one Kano neighborhood fired shotguns Wednesday at groups of Muslim men accused of torching houses.

"The Kano situation is an unfortunate development and just a reverberation of what happened in Yelwa," said Remi Oyo, spokeswoman for President Olusegun Obasanjo (search).

Obasanjo's 1999 election ushered in a brittle civilian government after 15 years of oppressive military rule and unleashed long-simmering ethnic, religious and communal tensions. Fighting in Africa's most-populous country has since killed more than 10,000.

Obasanjo, a Christian and a former military junta leader, ordered security agencies Wednesday to "put a permanent end" to the violence, Oyo said, without elaborating.

Police commissioner Abdul Ganiyu Daudu confirmed 30 people dead. Rioters were torching buildings and blocking residents from escaping, he added.

A leader of minority Christian Ibo (search)-speakers in Kano, Boniface Ibekwe, asked police in the presence of journalists to "stop this killing today or give us six months to leave Kano peacefully."

By Wednesday evening, security forces fired tear gas and shot into in the air to disperse crowds ahead of a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

On Tuesday, Kano's most influential cleric launched the Muslim protest from the main mosque, telling protesters that the Yelwa killings were part of a supposed Western conspiracy against followers of Islam.

The May 2 and May 4 attacks on Yelwa by ethnic Tarok (search) Christians left 500 to 600 dead in the largely Muslim Hausa (search)-speaking town, according to a Red Cross official who traveled there. Nigerian officials — who routinely play down violence to avoid inciting revenge attacks — put the death toll at half those figures.

In February, Muslim militants were blamed for the slaughter of almost 50 people in Yelwa — including Christians who took refuge in a church.

Many of Nigeria's 126 million people — split almost evenly between Muslims and Christians — live together peacefully. But religious and ethnic enmities and competition between farmers and herders for fertile lands are behind numerous deadly outbursts.