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Friday, July 10, 1998 Published at 00:59 GMT 01:59 UK

World: Africa

Nigeria promises democracy commission

People await developments outside the Lagos home of Chief Abiola

Listen to a 30 minute special programme from the BBC African Service

The highest body of the Nigerian military regime, the Provisional Ruling Council, has said it is setting up a commission of senior officials to outline a transition to democracy.

After prolonged discussions, it said the military ruler, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, would address the nation on the plan next week.

The council also decided to commute the death sentences passed on six people in connection with an alleged plot to overthrow the former military ruler, General Sani Abacha, last December.

[ image: Abubakar: pledge to restore democracy]
Abubakar: pledge to restore democracy
A statement said the decision was a gesture of goodwill.

One of those affected is General Oladipyo Diya, General Abacha's deputy.

Earlier South Africa's deputy president, Thabo Mbeki, became the latest in a string of international visitors to visit Nigeria's top military leaders. He said they had repeated their recent pledge to release all remaining political prisoners.

Renewed clashes

Hilary Andersson: a painful waiting period
Meanwhile there have been further clashes between police and demonstrators angered at the death in detention of the country's leading political prisoner, Chief Moshood Abiola.

Local radio reported more violence on the streets of the largest city Lagos. The situation was later reported to have calmed down, although police remained on the streets.

A statement issued by Chief Abiola's son, Kola, called for calm. He said that embracing peace would be the greatest honour that could be done for Chief Abiola in death; only then would he not have died in vain.

[ image: Rioters accuse the Hausa military of Abiola's death]
Rioters accuse the Hausa military of Abiola's death
At least 19 protesters have been killed in rioting in the wake of the death of Chief Abiola - widely believed to have been the winner of the 1993 elections.

Supporters of Chief Abiola are waiting to find out what caused his unexpected death on Tuesday.

A team of pathologists from the United States, Canada and Britain has started arriving in the country where they are due to perform an autopsy on his body to try to establish the exact circumstances of his death.

[ image: Chief Abiola: died aged 60]
Chief Abiola: died aged 60
The team's findings will be publicly announced, although it is not clear whether they will be available immediately. According to Muslim tradition, Chief Abiola has to then be buried as soon as possible.

Chief Abiola died on Tuesday, apparently from a heart attack, just hours before he was due to be released.

Government accused

Antony Goldman of The Economist: Abukabar has shown a desire to be more inclusive
Since the death a month ago of the military ruler General Sani Abacha who imprisoned him, Chief Abiola's release had been one of the central reforms demanded from the new government.

As news of Chief Abiola's death spread many of his supporters accused the government of killing him, either by poison or neglect.

In a televised address Gen Abubakar appealed for calm, and offered his "heartfelt condolences" to Chief Abiola's family.

Ethnic violence

Nigerian democracy activist Ola Soyinka: "It is a hypocritical and distasteful speech."
The death of Chief Abiola unleashed a wave of ethnic violence.

Lagos and the rest of ethnic Yoruba formed the political stronghold of Chief Abiola, himself a Yoruba.

The Hausa-speaking north has been the traditional home to the military leaders, including Gen Abubakar, who have ruled Nigeria since independence in 1960.

The people reported to have died so far were mainly protesters from the Yoruba tribe. Rioting broke out in Lagos, Ibadan and Abeokuta, Chief Abiola's home town.

Many Yorubas are reported to have taken their anger out on Hausas, who they accuse of robbing them of jobs and power, and now of causing Chief Abiola's death.

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