By Anamesere Igboeroteonwu
ONITSHA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Over 1,000 southern Nigerian secessionists took to the streets on Friday to express the hope that newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump might help counter Muslim influence in their country.
Shouting "Biafra for Trump", protesters held up U.S. flags and pictures of Trump in Port Harcourt, a major port city in the southeast, while also brandishing the Biafran flag and warning about Muslim influence in Nigeria.
Southern Nigeria is mostly Christian while Islam is the majority faith in the north.
Trump has hardly mentioned Africa during his election campaign. But his views about curbing Muslim immigration have scored well in southern Nigeria where many complain of neglect from President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the north.
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Trump took office in Washington on Friday.
"Arrests have been made - about 53 persons and counting," said Nnamdi Omoni, police spokesman for Rivers state, where the rally took place.
"They have been in processions, singing and dancing along the roads and we are doing our best to contain them because we do not want the situation to degenerate or snowball into something else," said Omoni, who denied claims by protest leaders that officers had opened fire on the rally.
George Ipob, one of the protest leaders, said that "unlike Obama, Trump is sensitive to people like us ... he being also leader of the greatest free Christian country.
"We believe in his policies and agenda against terrorism, unbridled killings of defenceless people, subjugation and suppression of people across the world by despots," said the deputy national coordiantor for the Indigenous People of Biafra, who only gave his name as George.
"Trump is sane and sensitive to people like us ... will listen to our cries and put in a word for us where it matters."
Secessionist feeling has simmered in the southeast since the Biafra separatist rebellion tipped the west African country into a 1967-1970 civil war that killed an estimated 1 million people.
In November, Amnesty International said security agencies had killed at least 150 peaceful "Biafra" advocates. Police and army have denied this.
(Additional reporting by Tife Owolabi in Yenagoa; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Tom Heneghan)