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More than 600 dead in Nigeria clashes - police

MORE than 600 people were killed last week in days of clashes between the security forces and members of a radical Islamic sect in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, a police spokesman said today.

Soldiers and police clashed in several north Nigerian states with followers of Boko Haram, a militant sect which wants sharia (Islamic law) to be imposed more widely in Africa's most populous nation, but Maiduguri saw the heaviest fighting.

The troubles began last Sunday in Bauchi state, some 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Maiduguri, when members of the group -- loosely modelled on the Taliban in Afghanistan -- were arrested on suspicion of plotting to attack a police station.

Boko Haram followers, armed with machetes, knives, home-made hunting rifles and petrol bombs, then went on the rampage in several cities.

"The dead are more than 600," Isa Azare, spokesman for the police command in Maiduguri which has been helping to coordinate the collection of bodies in the city, said.

Sect leader Mohammed Yusuf, 39, whose base was in Maiduguri, was shot dead on Thursday while in police detention, and the authorities are hoping his killing will end the uprising.

Residents ventured back onto the streets yesterday, banks reopened and soldiers began to withdraw their roadblocks. But the authorities have said house to house searches for Yusuf's followers will continue.


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