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Demand for return of hundreds of abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria mounts

By Azadeh Ansari and Tia Brueggeman, CNN
updated 6:55 AM EDT, Sun May 4, 2014
  • Worldwide protests call for the release of schoolgirls
  • Kerry: "Kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime"
  • A total of 276 schoolgirls were abducted in the middle of the night last month
  • There are 223 girls still in the hands of their captors, police say

Washington (CNN) -- International pressure on Nigeria is mounting with protesters taking to the streets around the world to demand the rescue of hundreds of schoolgirls abducted by the terror group Boko Haram.

From Los Angeles to London, demonstrators carried posters reading #BringBackOurGirls -- a campaign that began on Twitter following the mass abduction of the girls in April -- and chanted "Bring them home!" "Not for sale!" and "African lives matter!"

The protests on Saturday came the same day that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to step up efforts to find the girls who were abducted on April 14 from a school in Chibok, in the country's rural northeast.

In Washington, protesters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to denounce what they described as a poor response by the Nigerian government to rescue the girls.

Police in riot gear block a route in Abuja, Nigeria, on Tuesday, October 14, during a demonstration calling on the Nigerian government to rescue schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. In April, more than 200 girls were abducted from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, officials and witnesses said. Police in riot gear block a route in Abuja, Nigeria, on Tuesday, October 14, during a demonstration calling on the Nigerian government to rescue schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. In April, more than 200 girls were abducted from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, officials and witnesses said.
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls
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Boko Haram: A bloody insurgency, a growing challenge

Among them was Oluwa Tosin Adegobla, who cried even as she demanded action.

"When you touch kids, I think you've gone too far, especially, when it's kids trying to get an education," said Adegobla, who was born in Nigeria. "... We're getting very little information about what the federal government is actually doing to mobilize a search for those girls."

She criticized the Nigerian President for what she described as a lack of response.

The President's press office announced Saturday that Jonathan will deliver a nationwide address on the issue on Sunday.

Outcry from angry Nigerians

In Nigeria, angry citizens contend authorities are not doing enough. They took to social media using hashtags #BringBackOurGirls and #BringBackOurDaughters to demand more from the government, a move that appears to have ignited a global call for action.

Despite the recent public outcries, the Nigeria's Defense Ministry said it is committed to the search.

Even so, protesters have said not enough is being done.

"It irks me that the government is not doing enough to bring back our girls and curb this insurgency,' said Iheanyi Onwubiko to CNN's iReport from Abuja, Nigeria.

Onwubiko joined the online protest movement because of a personal connection to one of the kidnapped girls.

CNN's iReport: #BringBackOurGirls

The African Union issued a statement on Friday expressing "support to the efforts being made to rescue the abducted girls and bring to justice the perpetrators of this abhorrent act" and "solidarity with the anguished families."

The statement echoed other groups' concerns.

"Can you imagine if 234 girls were abducted from their school in Paris or in Chicago? This would be a nightmare, this would be an uproar," Nicole Lee, president of TransAfrica, an African-American foreign policy organization, said at the Washington demonstration.

"... People would care, people would take action and we would want the same for the girls in Nigeria."

During Kerry's televised comment, made during a visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, he called on the government to bring those responsible to justice.

"The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime, and we will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to hold the perpetrators to justice," he said.

Boko Haram's name translates to "Western education is a sin" in the local language.

The group especially opposes the education of women. Under its version of Sharia law, women should be at home raising children and looking after their husbands, not at school learning to read and write.

Convoy disappears with hundreds of school girls

According to accounts, armed members of Boko Haram overwhelmed security guards at the all-girls schools, herded the girls out of bed and forced them into trucks in the town of Chibok. The convoy of trucks then disappeared into the dense forest bordering Cameroon.

On Friday, Nigerian authorities updated the number of girls kidnapped to 276. At least 53 of the girls escaped, leaving 223 in the hands of their captors, police said.

Authorities said that the new figure for missing girls -- 223 -- could grow as police fill in spotty school enrollment records.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department warned citizens against traveling to Nigeria because of a "fluid and unpredictable" security situation. The government of Nigeria has issued a state of emergency in the northeastern Nigerian states of Adamawa, Yobe and Borno, where the mass abduction of the girls occurred.

At the same time, the U.S. Consulate in Nigeria warned citizens to stay away from the Sheraton Hotel near the city of Lagos because of continued terror threats.

"As of late April, groups associated with terrorism allegedly planned to mount an unspecified attack against the Sheraton Hotel in Nigeria, near the city of Lagos. There was no further information regarding which of the two Sheraton Hotels in Lagos was the possible target, or if both of the Sheraton Hotels are possible targets," the statement reads.

In bus station explosion, death toll doubles to 18

CNN's Vladimir Duthiers, Nana Karikari-apau and Christabelle Fombu contributed to this report. Journalist Aminu Abubaker reported from Nigeria.

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Are you in Nigeria? Share your thoughts on the schoolgirls' kidnapping, but please stay safe.