JOS, Nigeria (Reuters) - Authorities in the central Nigerian city of Jos extended a curfew and ordered the army to shoot on sight on Saturday to stop more clashes between ethnic and religious gangs after fighting killed scores of people.
The governor of Plateau state, of which Jos is the capital, imposed a 24-hour curfew on neighbourhoods of the city that have been racked by violence in which rival gangs burned churches and mosques, forcing thousands to flee their homes.
A statement from the governor's office, read out on local radio, said the security forces had been directed to shoot on sight to enforce the measure. Sporadic violence had continued overnight despite a previous dawn-to-dusk curfew.
Gunfire and explosions heard in the early hours of the morning died down and many streets in the city, which lies at the crossroads between Nigeria's mostly Muslim north and mostly Christian south, were deserted as the military patrolled.
"There are Hausas and Beroms who want to fight each other and the army is in the middle trying to create a buffer zone," one resident said.
The unrest is the most serious of its kind in Africa's most populous nation, roughly equally split between Christians and Muslims, since President Umaru Yar'Adua took power in May 2007.
A Reuters witness saw a military truck carrying scores of bodies. The Red Cross said at least 20 people had been killed and more than 300 injured in Friday's fighting alone.
A spokesman for Plateau state governor Jonah Jang said hundreds of weapons had been retrieved at military roadblocks from vehicles trying to enter the city and that the gangs seemed to be getting arms from sympathisers outside the state.
The clashes between gangs of Muslim Hausas and mostly Christian Beroms were triggered by a disputed local government chairmanship election.
Residents said demonstrators from the Hausa ethnic group began protesting early on Friday after rumours spread that their ANPP party candidate had lost the race to the ruling PDP party.
Christians and Muslims generally live peacefully side by side in Africa's top oil producer, a country of 140 million people. But hostility has simmered in the past in Plateau state.
Hundreds were killed in ethnic-religious street fighting in Jos in 2001. Three years later, hundreds died in clashes in the town of Yelwa, leading then-President Olusegun Obasanjo to declare a state of emergency and impose a curfew.
The tensions in Plateau state have their roots in decades of resentment by indigenous minority groups, mostly Christian or animist, towards migrants and settlers from Nigeria's Hausa-speaking Muslim north.
Unrest in the state has in the past triggered reprisal attacks and tit-for-tat killings among different ethnic and religious groups in other areas of the country.
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(Additional reporting by Tume Ahemba)