Schools shut in Nigeria after sectarian strife kills at least 120

Authorities shut schools and extend a curfew in a region of southeastern Nigeria that has seen the worst of days of sectarian strife, an official said Thursday. Of the more than 120 people killed in Muslim-Christian fighting across the country, 80 died in the southeastern city of Onitsha . The violence followed weekend protests over the publication of cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, an international issue that irritated long-standing religious and ethnic tensions in Nigeria .

"Everywhere is calm for now," said Fred Chukwulobe, spokesman for the state government of Anambra, where Onitsha is located. "We extended the curfew earlier imposed on Onitsha to all major cities and towns, and it's being strictly enforced." Anambra Gov. Chris Ngige also ordered schools shut after the second day of violence on Wednesday was triggered by rumors northern Hausa Muslims sheltering at a military barracks had slipped out to attack a primary school.

"The governor had to take preventive measure of closing all schools because the rumor was spreading that northerners were attacking schools," said Chukwulobe. "They'll reopen when normalcy returns." The extent of the violence and the emotions it stirred could make a return to normal difficult.

Ifeanyi Ese, a 34-year-old Christian, stood amid the concrete rubble of a mosque Thursday. "We don't want these mosques here anymore. These people are causing all the problems all over the world because they don't fear God," he said.

He angrily scrawled "Mohammed is a man, but Jesus is from above" with a burned stick on a shattered wall. At least nine charred bodies lay in dirt streets as passers-by hurried past, holding cloths to their noses against the stench. Three other bodies burned on a pyre of flaming tires.

A Muslim district of about 100 homes was burned to the ground during the violence Tuesday and Wednesday. Crumpled corrugated tin roofs lay on top of the remains of smoldering houses Thursday.

About 5,000 Muslims fled Onitsha and took refuge across the Niger River in the neighboring town of Asaba . Thursday, several hundred sat beneath trees at a police barracks there, asking for help to travel northward as babies wailed.

N.U.