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Sunday, June 14, 1998 Published at 20:02 GMT 21:02 UK

World: Africa

Possible role for Nigerian opposition

Nigerian military ruler General Abdulsalam Abubakar

The new leader of Nigeria, General Abdulsalam Abubakar has said he wants changes to the transition programme started by his predecessor General Sani Abacha.

BBC correspondent Hilary Andersson reports from Lagos: "Consensus needed"
In a statement, after a meeting with leaders of Nigeria's five registered political parties, General Abubakar suggested that he wanted opposition groups not currently recognised by the government to be involved.

It is the first time that General Abubaker has expanded on his initial comments pledging support for the transition programme.

He urged possible contenders to the leadership of the country to reflect on what went wrong and to develop ideas for the future.

General Abubakar also spoke by telephone to the American president, Bill Clinton, who called for a credible and lasting transition to civilian government.

[ image: The latest talks largely ignored the demands of Friday's protests in Lagos]
The latest talks largely ignored the demands of Friday's protests in Lagos
The BBC Lagos correspondent says while General Abubakar makes clear that stability remains a priority, it is clear he is also considering ways to encourage some critics to take part in the political programme.

General Abubakar is responsible for steering the country from military rule to a civilian government by October.

But many opposition figures feared he would continue to only recognise the five parties sanctioned by his predecessor, all of whom had nominated General Abacha as the sole candidate in upcoming presidential elections.

Tear gas and bullets

After demonstrations on Friday the opposition accused the new government of being an imitation of General Abacha's.

Security forces, firing shots in to the air and using tear gas, were called in to disperse several hundred opposition activists.

The protest rally in Lagos marked the fifth anniversary of the annulled elections of 1993.

The demonstrators want the government to release the presumed winner of those elections, Chief Mashood Abiola, from detention.

Our correspondent says General Abubakar's options are to disband the political parties, or to allow new political groupings to function and to schedule a new set of elections.

But she adds the military government's main problem that its real opponents say they are not interested in joining any transition programme led by the military.

They see Chief Abiola as the country's rightful president.

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