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Religious violence rocks Nigeria

The Miss World contest moves to London, leaving Nigeria's world image tarnished.

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The arrival of dozens of beauty queens in London Sunday closed the troubled Nigerian chapter on this year's Miss World contest.

For the contestants, the change in venue means a return to simply vying for the title of the globe's most beautiful woman. But they leave in their wake a Nigeria gripped by increasing social and political tensions that find expression between religious and ethnic groups.

Violence that started last week in response to the contest, and continued into the weekend, left as many as 200 people dead. Earlier riots have also taken place unhindered by civil authority, and the government seems to hold little sway in large parts of the north, where Islamic law has governed for the past two years.

For a country that has tried to portray itself as emerging successfully from 16 years of military rule, the recent violence is the latest indication that it has miles to go in achieving that goal.

The challenge for the government and the international community, analysts say, is to resolve some of the seemingly intractable problems that make Africa's most populous country appear to the world as if it is falling apart.

"The image of Nigeria is poor and this will make it worse," says one state government official in Lagos, the country's commercial capital. "We must address the question of our [internal] relationships."

The Nigerian newspaper that lit the fuse last week has tried to take some first steps. ThisDay cleared one-third of its front page and all of page two Sunday to run an apology to the nation's Muslims over an article that suggested the prophet Muhammad might have married one of the contestants in the Miss World beauty pageant. The mea culpa said the newspaper's ethos was "not to be offensive to any religion" nor "to denigrate the cultural and religious values" of the country's people. "We can only plead that we meant no harm," ThisDay said. "The error was totally unintended."

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