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Sixteen dead as Nigeria chaos grows


Ethnic and religious violence in Nigeria claimed 16 more victims Tuesday, with gunmen killing eight in the north and a mob torching an Islamic school in the south, as a fuel strike added to the deadly tension.

Amid the sectarian and social turmoil, Nobel literature prize laureate Wole Soyinka, one of the country's most respected voices, warned that the continent's most populous nation was heading toward civil war.

A two-day old general strike has paralysed the country and sent President Goodluck Jonathan's government -- already battling a spate of bloody attacks by the sect Boko Haram -- into crisis mode.

Analysts said the tension in Africa's top oil producer contributed to rising world oil prices, with Brent North Sea crude gaining 83 cents to $113.28 (Dh530.26) a barrel on Tuesday.

In the latest attack blamed on Boko Haram, gunmen killed eight people, including five police officers, in a pub in Potiskum town in the northern state of Yobe before speeding off on a motorcycle.

A doctor said eight bodies were brought to the local morgue, including "five policemen, a bartender, a customer and a 10-year-old girl".

Police confirmed the shooting but did not give a casualty toll.

Gunmen also killed three people in an attack on a Christian village in northern Nigerian Bauchi state, police and community leaders said.

Meanwhile in the country's south, a mob burnt part of the central mosque complex in the city of Benin, where earlier clashes killed five, following six deaths there the previous day.

Witnesses said an Islamic school adjacent to the mosque was torched and a bus parked next to it also went up in flames.

The unrest in the city started Monday amid protests against the government's January 1 scrapping of fuel subsidies, which caused petrol prices to more than double, sparking widespread anger.

Most of Nigeria's 160 million people live on less than $2 a day.

During the rally in Benin, a crowd split off to attack a mosque and terrorise people in neighbourhoods that are mainly Hausa, an ethnic group that dominates the north and is overwhelmingly Muslim.

Nigeria is roughly divided between a predominantly south and mainly north.

Recent violence targeting Christians -- including a series of Christmas Day bombings -- has sparked warnings from Christian leaders that they will defend themselves and stoked fears of a wider religious conflict.

Soyinka, who became Africa's first Nobel prize for literature winner in 1986, warned in a BBC interview that the country could face a new conflict akin to its 1960s war, which killed more than one million people.

"It's not an unrealistic comparison -- it's certainly based on many similarities... We see the nation heading towards a civil war," he said.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon met Nigeria's Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru in New York as the UN expressed fears about militant groups in West Africa.

The two met just after the release of a UN report that hinted at links between Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda's affiliate in North Africa.

President Jonathan on Sunday warned that the violence blamed on Boko Haram was worse than the 1967-70 civil war, saying also that there were sect sympathisers in the government and within the security agencies.

The president on Tuesday met his security chiefs in the capital Abuja as he faced the toughest challenge since taking the post in 2010, battling on two fronts -- against the social protests and Boko Haram.

Across Nigeria, unrest prevailed and thousands protested over fuel prices, police fired tear gas and businesses shut down.

Gangs set up roadblocks of burning tyres on major roads in the economic capital Lagos and threw stones at cars while extorting cash from drivers.

Protesters marched through the streets to the sound of blaring afrobeat music, sometimes with soldiers clapping and taking pictures.

One person brought a goat wrapped in a union flag while others carried a mock coffin labelled "Badluck", a play on the president's name.

A 24-hour curfew was imposed in the northern city of Kaduna for fear protests would degenerate after thousands of fuel protesters tried for two successive days to force their way into a government complex.

Residents said police fired teargas to disperse thousands of young men who besieged the complex for a second day running.

The government says it scrapped the fuel subsidies because they cost more than ê8 billion (6.3 billion euros) in 2011 and that it needs the money to improve the country's woefully inadequate infrastructure.

Nigerians have viewed the fuel subsidies as their only benefit from the nation's vast oil wealth, and many people lack any real trust in the government after years of deeply rooted corruption.

The Nigerian government late Tuesday ordered all striking workers back to work, warning that their employers would enforce a "no work, no pay policy" if they failed to do so.