Nigeria: 'cartoon riots had little to do with religion'

 The situation in Northern Nigeria is returning to normal after riots at the weekend left at least 15 people dead. Father Michael Gajere, parish priest at the church of St Rita's in Bulunkutu, was among those killed in the violence on Saturday. Fr Gajere came from Adamawa state and had only been in his new parish for a month. The local Sunday Independent noted that some of the rioters asked their victims to speak in the local dialect before attacking them. Some commentators suggest that this implies the cause of the riots was political, rather than religious. On Vatican Radio, Fr Roberto, a Salesian missionary from Onitsha, southern Nigeria, said: "I would say, once again, economic interests are masked with alleged religious motivations. The Christians, who live in the north are generally very active in commerce, and in the economic arena. Therefore, I think that this violence is borne out of the interests of some, if not all, who try to exploit religious motivations." Fr Roberto said he felt sure many of the riots across the Moslem world over the Mohamed cartoons were being provoked for non-religious reasons. Archbishop Renzo Fratini the papal nuncio in Nigeria said: "There has been tension between Muslims and Christians, not only Catholics, but the present violence has little to do with religion and is more about political exploitation of divisions in Nigerian society for some personal gain." "Protest against the cartoons is only a cover up. From Europe people might easily see these episodes in Nigeria in the context of similar riots in other countries. But it is necessary to be familiar with the specific context of Nigeria," Archbishop Fratini said. "In fact" the nuncio said "the demonstrations which turned into violence were called not only to protest against the cartoons but also to oppose an amendment to the Constitution which would allow president Olusegun Obasanjo to aim for a third mandate in 2007." "On the other hands events in other countries do have a certain impact on the situation in Nigeria fanning existing tension" the nuncio concluded. Yesterday Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano sent a telegram, on behalf of the Pope, to the Church in Nigerian. The message said: "Saddened to learn of the tragic consequences of the recent violent protests in northern Nigeria, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI assures all those affected of his closeness in prayer and commends the late Reverend Father Michael Gajere and all the deceased to the loving mercy of the Almighty. Upon their grieving families the Holy Father invokes divine blessings of strength and consolation. He likewise prays for all involved in providing security, encouraging them in their efforts to ensure peace and to promote the rule of law for which all people of good will long." Source: Fides/MISNA

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