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Politicians manipulate religious differences, Nigerian archbishop charges

Catholic World News - December 02, 2008

Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, has charged that political motives, rather than religious conflicts, were the fundamental cause of violence in the northern city of Jos, where at least 200 people were killed and 10,000 driven from the homes as Christians clashed with Muslims in the aftermath of a contested election. "It will not be helpful to simply say Christians and Muslims are fighting," the archbishop said. "After all, we know that the origin of all this is political: the result or non-result of an election. Politicians always find a way to manipulate religion when it suits them, and this is what is happening now."

Archbishop Onaiyekan said that it is particularly tragic that the church buildings were the targets of some mob assaults, and acknowledged that the violence would be a severe setback for inter-religious ties. He said that he was in touch with Islamic leaders, hoping to minimize the damage and to produce a joint statement calling for peace. The archbishop called upon government leaders to investigate the killings thoroughly, punish those responsible, and ensure security for the people of the region. "Law-abiding Nigerians could be tempted to take alternative measures for self defense if they ever feel that they can no longer trust the state to protect them," he observed. "This must never be allowed to happen."

At his Angelus audience on Sunday, November 30, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his horror at the violence, comparing it with the terrorist attack in Mumbai. "The causes and circumstances of these tragic events are different," the Pontiff said; "but our horror, and the condemnation of such cruel and senseless violence must be one and the same."

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