Christian-Muslim clashes in Nigeria leave 8 dead

Kano, Nigeria - Christians and Muslims have clashed in eastern Nigeria, leaving eight people dead and 40 seriously wounded, with six mosques and one church also torched, police said on Wednesday.

In the latest sectarian violence to rock the country, fighting broke out Tuesday between Muslim and Christian youths in Wukari, a town in Taraba state, over the building of a mosque on the premises of a local police headquarters.

A Christian mob opposed to the construction of the mosque razed it, Taraba state police commissioner Aliyu Musa told AFP by phone from the state capital Jalingo.

Muslims responded by attacking a nearby church, leading to the eruption of violence between the two sides, Musa said.

"From reports at our disposal, eight people have been killed and 40 others seriously injured in the violence while six mosques and one church were burnt," Musa said.

Police sent in reinforcements and the situation was calm in remote Taraba, one of Nigeria's 36 states, on Wednesday, he said.

Taraba, which neighbours Plateau, the central Nigerian state whose capital Jos is a sectarian flashpoint, is predominantly Christian.

Sectarian clashes occur frequently in Nigeria, particularly in the country's north, with hundreds of people killed in violence this year alone.

The new clashes come weeks ahead of the one-year anniversary of an uprising by an Islamist sect in the northern city of Maiduguri.

Nigerian police and troops crushed the uprising by the Boko Haram sect -- which has also been called the Nigerian Taliban -- after four days of street battles that left more than 800 dead, mostly sect members.

The country's 150 million population is roughly divided in half between Muslims and Christians.

Plateau state lies in the so-called middle belt between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south.

Tuesday's clashes came amid calls for inter-religious tolerance from Sultan Muhammad Saad Abubakar, Nigeria's highest Islamic spiritual leader.

"I call on Nigerian Muslims and Christians to foster interfaith harmony and tolerance and eschew any acts capable of causing disaffection and destroying the fabric of peace and good neighbourliness among them," Abubakar was quoted as saying in local dailies on Wednesday.

He made the call at an interfaith gathering of Muslim and Christian leaders in the southern city of Owerri.

The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, told AFP most of the violence "has nothing to do with religion."

Many have argued that the clashes have resulted from religion being exploited in the struggle for local power.

"It's probably people who have other agendas and are using the mosque issue," he said.