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Nigerian president appeals for calm

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has appealed for calm after riots swept across the Muslim north, highlighting religious and ethnic tensions in the nation in the wake of his re-election as leader.

The violence cut across 13 states, leaving hundreds wounded. Heavy gunfire echoed through cities, as shouting crowds burned tyres and threw stones at security forces. Many were feared dead, though federal officials declined to offer any figures for fear of further stoking tensions.

In a televised address to the nation, Mr Jonathan called on Nigerians to "quickly move away from partisan battlegrounds and find a national common ground", adding: "Nobody's political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian."

While Christians and Muslims have shared the same soil in the nation for centuries, the election result showing the Christian president's more than 10 million vote lead over Muslim candidate Muhammadu Buhari spread accusations of rigging in a nation long accustomed to ballot box stuffing.

Mr Jonathan took office last year only after the country's elected Muslim president died from a lengthy illness before his term ended, and many in the north still believe the ruling party should have put up a Muslim candidate instead in this year's election.

"The damage is immense. A lot of buildings have been torched: houses, businesses and religious centres," said Umar Mairiga of the Nigerian Red Cross. More than 270 people had been wounded and some 15,000 had been displaced by the violence, he said.

Nigeria has a long history of violent and rigged polls since it abandoned a revolving door of military rulers and embraced democracy 12 years ago. However, observers largely said Saturday's presidential election appeared to be fair, with fewer cases of ballot box thefts than previous polls.

Election chairman Attahiru Jega announced results that showed Mr Jonathan won 22.4 million votes, compared to the 12.2 million votes of his nearest rival, the former military ruler Mr Buhari. Mr Jonathan also received enough votes across Nigeria's 36 states and capital to avoid triggering a run-off.

The West African nation of 150 million people is divided between a Christian-dominated south and the Muslim north. Mr Buhari carried northern states where poverty remains endemic and opportunities few.

Mr Jonathan came to power after the May 2010 death of Nigeria's long-ill elected leader, President Umaru Yar'Adua. The north's elite political class wanted the ruling party to honour an unwritten power-sharing agreement that would have placed another northern candidate into the presidency. However, Mr Jonathan ultimately prevailed in a ruling party primary.

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