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51 civilians killed in Nigerian protests, president says

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 23, 2020

Police officers stop and search a bus carrying passengers around Lekki toll gate in Lagos Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Resentment lingered with the smell of charred tires Friday as Nigeria's streets were relatively calm after days of protests over police abuses, while authorities gave little acknowledgement to reports of the military killing at least 12 peaceful demonstrators earlier this week.  (Sunday Alamba/Associated Press)
Police officers stop and search a bus carrying passengers around Lekki toll gate in Lagos Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Resentment lingered with the smell of charred tires Friday as Nigeria's streets were relatively calm after days of protests over police abuses, while authorities gave little acknowledgement to reports of the military killing at least 12 peaceful demonstrators earlier this week. (Sunday Alamba/Associated Press)
By Sam Olukoya and Kate Bartlett Tribune News Service

Tribune News Service

LAGOS, Nigeria – Fifty-one civilians have been killed since the start of anti-police brutality protests in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari said Friday, the first time he has admitted there were deaths.

The president did not say whether security forces were responsible for the civilian deaths, but did note that 11 police officers and seven soldiers were “killed by rioters,” taking the total number of fatalities to 69.

“Throughout the disturbances, Security Agencies observed extreme restraint,” Buhari said in a virtual meeting with former Nigerian leaders on the security situation in the country, according to a transcript.

The United Nations and other members of the international community however, say that Tuesday night security forces launched a bloody crackdown on protesters defying curfew in Lagos. Amnesty International says at least 12 protesters were killed that night alone.

Buhari noted that he had granted the protesters concessions, after the beginning of demonstrations about two weeks ago against a special police unit known for its brutality.

The government agreed to scrap the Special Anti Robbery Squad, or SARS, he said, but “protesters refused to call off the protest … Instead, they became emboldened and gradually turned violent.”

“It is unfortunate that the initial genuine … protest of the youths in parts of the country against SARS has been hijacked and misdirected,” the president added.

The transcript did not mention holding anyone accountable for the deaths, but said there had been widespread damage to property and that thousands of inmates had been freed from correctional centers during the unrest.

One of Nigeria’s main prisons was set on fire Thursday during the unrest.

The Lagos governor first denied there were any fatalities Tuesday night, later admitting one person died, while the Nigerian army called it “fake news.” Buhari appealed for calm but did not mention killings.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are among those leaders who have issued statements against the killings.

Nigeria has a young population and the protests galvanized support through social media. Celebrities have also got behind the movement, with American popstar Rihanna and others tweeting their support.

Lagos – Africa’s biggest city, in its largest economy – was quiet Friday and is still under curfew.

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