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People hold placards as hundreds of Soweto residents gather at the YMCA in Soweto, Johannesburg, on May 22, to demonstrate for the release of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria. The
Nigeria schools ‘close’ to protest gov’t inaction Shut down organized by NUT

JOS, Nigeria, May 22, (Agencies): Many schools across Nigeria closed Thursday to protest the abductions of schoolgirls by Boko Haram, the government’s failure to rescue them and the killings of 173 teachers by the Islamic extremists in recent years.

Families of some of the kidnapped girls and their supporters also planned to march Thursday afternoon to the presidential villa in Abuja, the capital, to protest the failure to rescue the girls more than five weeks after they were captured. Police in riot gear and fire engines with water cannon were waiting for the protesters outside the Aso Rock presidential complex. In the central city of Jos, family and friends searched mortuaries and hospitals for people missing since two huge bombs hit a busy market and bus station two days ago.

The death toll rose to 130, making Tuesday’s blasts in Jos the deadliest bombing yet committed by the Boko Haram extremists, though they have not claimed responsibility. Many of the dead may never be identified, University of Jos student leader Dickson Odeh told The Associated Press after his group searched several hospital mortuaries.

They were able to identify the bodies of seven s t u d e n t s , some only from ID papers on mutilated bodies, but still are searching for others, he said. “It’s horrible,” Odeh said in front of the Jos University Teaching Hospital. “Many bodies are burned beyond recognition.” Among those identified was Michael Obgole, a medical student. He “was ready to sacrifice at any time,” said a friend, Ejiro Otete “I think our generation will miss somebody like him.”

Terrible
Inside the hospital, 23- year-old survivor Franklyn Anderson cried into her mother’s shoulder “Mommy, mommy that fire was terrible.” She said she got hit by the blast because she had a yen for fried yams and wandered into the market to find some.

Lying beside a young woman whose legs were blown off, Anderson thanked God for her survival, intact. “I’ll pull through ... because I know God is here for me, He gave me another chance, He gave me another life,” she said. Traumatized family members at the morgue said they were trying to get police reports and hospital paperwork that would allow them to take the bodies of loved ones for burial. An earthmover and street cleaners were removing debris Thursday from the marketplace and bus station where the massive explosions brought down multistory buildings. The school shutdown was organized by the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), which said the extremists have killed 173 of its members in recent years.

The union also railed against ongoing insecurity that has teachers as well as students going to schools filled with fear. Boko Haram — the nickname means “Western education is forbidden” — blames Western influences for endemic corruption that keeps most Nigerians in poverty despite the country’s wealth of oil, minerals, agriculture and thriving industries like Nollywood that produce more movies than any in the world including Hollywood and Bollywood. National and international outrage forced President Goodluck Jonathan to accept international help, mainly technical, intelligence-gathering and surveillance expertise, from several countries this month in the bid to rescue the kidnapped girls. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced that the US has sent 80 military personnel to neighboring Chad to help expand the search for them using drones.

Manned US aircraft also are searching the area from a base in neighboring Niger. The UN Security Council was expected Thursday to declare Boko Haram a terrorist group and impose sanctions on the al-Qaeda-linked extremists. Nigeria, which is serving a two-year term on the council, asked the committee monitoring sanctions against al-Qaeda to add Boko Haram to the list of organizations subject to an arms embargo and asset freeze. Unless any of the 14 other council member object by a Thursday afternoon deadline, Boko Haram will be added to the al-Qaeda sanctions list.

Deployed
The United States has deployed 80 military personnel to Chad to help find 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, who are blamed for a spree of deadly attacks this week including a massive car-bombing. In a letter to Congress, US President Barack Obama said the military contingent would stay in Chad until their support in ending the abduction nightmare that has outraged the world “is no longer required”. “These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,” Obama said. The troops mark a significant boost to an existing US military effort which includes the use of surveillance drones as well as manned aircraft over Nigeria.

The Pentagon has criticised Nigeria for failing to react swiftly to the rise of Boko Haram, held responsible for thousands of deaths since 2009. Until the kidnappings Nigeria had resisted cooperation with the West in its fight against the group. Nigerian authorities have been probing the nation’s deadliest bomb attack yet, a twin car blast Tuesday in the New Abuja Market area of the central city of Jos which left at least 118 people dead and buildings collapsed. Boko Haram has been blamed for the atrocity as well as other recent strikes near the town where the schoolgirls were kidnapped, in affronts to a security crackdown launched in response to the April 14 mass abduction.

Three more attacks, two in villages near the girls’ hometown of Chibok in northeastern Borno state and one near Lake Chad, have left more than 50 people dead between Monday and Wednesday, according to witnesses. “They began shooting and set fire to our homes. We had to flee to the bush. They killed 20 of our people,” Haruna Bitrus in the village of Alagarno told AFP, in an account supported by other residents. Washington described the Jos carnage — and a suicide car bombing in the northern city of Kano on Sunday — as “vicious attacks on defenceless Nigerian civilians”.

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