Kaduna, Nov. 23 (Reuters): Miss World organisers moved the beauty pageant to London from Nigeria today following bloody religious riots sparked by a newspaper article linking Prophet Mohammad to the event.
The organisers announced overnight that they were relocating the contest from the Nigerian capital, Abuja. The statement followed a third day of bloodletting here, where by yesterday morning, Red Cross workers had put the death toll at 105.
The riots were ignited by an article in This Day suggesting Prophet Mohammad would probably have married one of the Miss World beauty queens if he were alive today.
Despite This Day apologising for running the November 16 article, the newspaper said the editor of its Saturday edition, Simon Kolawole, was arrested by secret police yesterday.
“Simon Kolawole was arrested by men of the State Security Service in Abuja,” This Day said.
The largely Islamic north of Nigeria has witnessed deadly eruptions of sectarian and ethnic clashes since about a dozen states began implementing the shariat in 2000.
The Miss World contestants began checking out of their Abuja hotel under heavy guard this afternoon. A bus was standing by to take them to the airport. Their flight was due in London in the evening.
“Miss World Organisation and Silver Bird Productions Ltd, organisers of the 2002 Miss World pageant, have decided to move the grand finale to London, England,” the statement said.
“This decision was taken after careful consideration of all the issues involved and in the overall interests of Nigeria and the contestants participating in this year’s edition.”
A spokeswoman said the London pageant would be held on December 7, the date originally scheduled in Nigeria.
The statement made no specific reference to the riots, which eyewitnesses said spread to two new Christian districts of Kaduna overnight before security forces brought it under control. The eyewitnesses said the situation in Kaduna was now calm but tense.
Clashes raged yesterday in Kaduna, with eyewitnesses saying the fighting overnight largely involved attacks by civilians on Muslims in Christian-dominated areas. Scorched bodies lay in streets, dotted by burnt houses and overturned cars. Shops were looted.
“I’ve heard of many deaths, but I saw only three bodies lying at the road junction this morning,” said Tajudeen Tijanni Ajibade, a retired journalist in the majority Christian area of Goni Gora. Eyewitnesses said they saw four truckloads of army and police reinforcements arrive in Kaduna today. The Red Cross said 3,000 people have also been displaced and hundreds injured in the fighting.
The violence, which has involved the majority religious group in each respective area attacking the minority one, erupted on Wednesday when rampaging Muslims burned the offices of This Day in Kaduna.
Two years ago thousands were killed in violence stemming from non-Muslim opposition to plans to introduce Islamic sharia law in Kaduna, one of 36 federal states.
Nigeria won the right to host this year’s pageant after Nigerian Agbani Darego was crowned Miss World 2001, the first Black African to win the title.
But Nigeria's plans to stage its biggest showbusiness event ever have been hit by controversy, mainly over the case of Amina Lawal, who was sentenced to death by stoning under Islamic law for bearing a child out of wedlock.
Several contestants threatened to boycott the pageant over the case, but almost all turned up after the government assured them there would be no stoning.
Muslim fundamentalist groups in Nigeria called the pageant “a parade of nudity” and threatened to disrupt it.