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Pope Francis said on Sunday that he is “following with particular concern the news that is coming out of Nigeria, regarding the violent clashes that have recently occurred between law enforcement and several young protesters.”
On October 20, police killed at least 12 young protesters who were demonstrating in a wealthy part of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub.
“Let us pray to the Lord that any form of violence may always be avoided, in the constant search for social harmony through the promotion of justice and the common good,” the pope said.
The violence accompanying the protests over police brutality are added to the ongoing conflict, especially in the north of the country, where mostly Christian farmers are attacked by terrorist groups.
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Nigeria’s top police official, Mohammed Adamu, on Saturday ordered the immediate mobilization of all officers to “reclaim the public space from criminal elements masquerading as protesters.”
President Muhammadu Buhari reported that at least 69 people have died since the protests began; the number includes mostly civilians, but also police and soldiers.
The protests, which feature many young people, began with calls for a police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), to be shut down.
President Muhammadu Buhari disbanded the unit, which has been accused of torture and extra-judicial killings, days after the protests began, but demonstrators went on to call for broader reforms.
The new police order came as a 24-hour curfew loosened for the first time Saturday in Lagos, a city of some 20 million where wealth and poverty are in sharp contrast, inflaming grievances over inequality and corruption.
More than 40% of Nigeria’s population is under 30, and unemployment is rampant.
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