KADUNA, Nigeria — Miss World organizers moved the beauty pageant from Nigeria to London on Saturday after about 100 people died in violence triggered by a newspaper’s reference to the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
The decision to cancel the pageant in Nigeria came after three days of Muslim and Christian rioting, which left mosques and churches smoldering and charred bodies lying in the dusty streets.
Miss World was moving to London “in the overall interests of Nigeria and the contestants,” said a brief statement signed by Guy Murray-Bruce, the pageant’s top official in Nigeria.
The London show was set for Dec. 7, the same day it had been planned for Nigeria.
No government officials were immediately available for comment.
The bloodshed started Wednesday in the northern city of Kaduna and spread Friday to Abuja, the capital, where the beauty contest was to be held.
Red Cross officials said about 100 people had been killed and 500 injured in the three days.
Rioting and fighting between between the various tribes of Muslims and Christians is commonplace in Africa’s most populous nation. Previous riots in Kaduna have escalated into religious battles that have killed hundreds since civilian government replaced military rule in 1999.
Islamic groups have complained for months that beauty pageant scheduled promotes promiscuity.
Things worsened after ThisDay newspaper in Kaduna published an article last Saturday suggesting that Islam’s prophet would have approved of the pageant.
“What would Muhammad think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from among them,” Isioma Daniel wrote.
After Muslims called it offensive, the newspaper published a brief front-page apology Monday, and a lengthier retraction Thursday that said the passage had run by mistake.
In Abuja, 225 miles northeast of here, Muslims stormed through town, burning cars and assaulting bystanders they believed to be Christian outside international hotels.
Police firing tear gas restored calm in Abuja within hours. But the melee in Kaduna, a religiously mixed city of several million people, continued in defiance of a round-the-clock police curfew.
Bands of Muslims, some armed with ceremonial daggers, stabbed and set fire to passers-by. Young men shouting “Allahu Akhbar,” or “God is great,” ignited makeshift barricades of tires and garbage. Christian youths smashed windows and burned mosques.
Plumes of smoke rose over Kaduna Friday as both sides burned and demolished homes in the segregated ethnic neighborhoods across this bustling market city.
Tunde Adeyemi, a 25-year-old Christian, said he and friends fought off Muslims. “We had only stones. They were shooting us, and we were stoning them,” he said.