April 21, 2011 / 6:50 AM / 8 years ago

Nigeria leader says polls to continue despite riots

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said on Thursday the final round of elections would go ahead next week despite rioting which has killed at least 120 people across the mostly Muslim north.

A soldier watches as a vehicle with a broken rear window is driven past on a street, two days after an election riot, in Kaduna metropolis in northern Nigeria April 20, 2011. Relatives used a lull in the curfew in northern Nigeria on Wednesday to search morgues for their loved ones, after riots triggered by disputed election results killed at least 100 people in the mostly-Muslim region. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Angry youths launched violent protests in northern cities this week after Jonathan, a Christian from the south, was declared the victor of a weekend election, defeating former military ruler and northern Muslim Muhammadu Buhari.

Churches, mosques and homes were set ablaze in the worst unrest for years as Buhari supporters rejected the outcome.

“These acts of mayhem are sad reminders of the events which plunged our country into 30 months of an unfortunate civil war,” Jonathan said, referring to killings that led to a conflict in which one million people were killed in the 1960s.

Shehu Sani, president of Nigeria’s Civil Rights Congress, said he believed as many as 260 people had been killed across the north, with the heaviest toll in the city of Kaduna.

A tally of figures from Red Cross officials, health workers and Reuters witnesses who visited morgues said the toll was at least 120.

Africa’s most populous nation is due to hold governorship and state assembly votes in most of its 36 states on Tuesday, but there are fears many voters will not turn out after the unrest.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said on Thursday it would delay the governorship election by two days in the northern states of Kaduna and Bauchi, two of the worst hit by violence, to give security staff more time to create a stable voting environment.

In the worst of the violence on Monday, hundreds suffered gunshot and machete wounds, some of them children, and thousands were displaced. The unrest has since been largely brought under control by curfews and a heavy military presence, but two people were killed and a mosque burned in Kano on Wednesday.

“These disturbances are more than mere political protests. Clearly, they aim to frustrate the remaining elections. This is not acceptable,” Jonathan said. “Enough is enough.”

He said he had authorised the security forces to use “justifiable force” to stop the violence and vowed those responsible would be brought to justice.

Some of the rioters in the northern cities of Kano and Kaduna chanted Buhari’s name as they went on the rampage.

Buhari has distanced himself from the violence and called it a spontaneous outpouring of anger against the ruling party.

But he said on Wednesday there had been enough rigging of results to deprive him of victory, and he has failed to issue a clear call to youths perpetrating violence in his name to stop.

The government says the riots were “unprovoked and premeditated”.

HIGH STAKES

The police urged people to vote in Tuesday’s governorship polls — which follow last Saturday’s presidential vote and parliamentary polls the previous week — and warned youths to avoid being used by “politicians desperately wanting to win”.

But despite soldiers beefing up security in main cities, isolated acts of violence have continued. Houses were burned on the outskirts of Kano late on Wednesday and there were reports of unrest in some parts of southern Kaduna state.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said at least 12,000 people had been displaced in Kano alone.

Jonathan was steadfast.

“I assure you all that calm is being restored in troubled parts of the country and that the elections scheduled for next Tuesday will go on as planned,” he said.

State governors are powerful figures in the African oil producer, controlling budgets larger than those of some African countries and wielding influence over policy.

The state elections had already been expected to be the most volatile of the three polls but the violence this week has raised the stakes even further.

Homes of ruling party members, electoral commission offices and police stations have been targeted, as have members of the National Youth Corps, who are helping run the elections.

Buhari told foreign journalists at his residence in Abuja on Wednesday he would be out campaigning later this week for his Congress for Progressive Change party ahead of next Tuesday’s state governorship votes.

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