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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005, 16:24 GMT
Nigeria separatist treason charge
Massob leader Ralph Uwazurike
Mr Uwazurike was picked up last month
Nigeria has charged the leader of a separatist organisation that has campaigned for the creation of a Republic of Biafra with treason.

Ralph Uwazurike and six others denied in an Abuja court any intention to take up arms to intimidate the state.

His outlawed organisation, Massob, wants a separate state, Biafra, for the Igbo people in the south-east.

On Monday his supporters clashed with police in the city of Onitsha as they demanded Mr Uwazurike's release.

Authorities accused them of burning down the home of Nigeria's late post-independence head of state, Nnamdi Azikiwe, during the protests, which they deny.

The Movement for the Actualisation of a Sovereign State of Biafra (Massob) was banned three years ago. It says it is pursuing its objectives peacefully.

Meanwhile, 20 Massob members were charged in a Kaduna court in northern Nigeria - where there is a sizeable Igbo community - with incitement on Tuesday for allegedly distributing leaflets about their organisation.

Life imprisonment

The BBC's Yusuf Sarki Muhammad in the capital, Abuja, says that if found guilty Mr Uwazurike could face the death penalty.

Biafran soldiers in 1967
Some 1m died during the Biafran civil war

But as this has not been carried out for decades, it would most likely be life imprisonment.

Charges against the men include training a Massob army and unlawfully running a society with the aim of waging war with the federal state.

The judge said the men were to remain in custody until the start of the trial on 6 December.

As the defendants left the courtroom they shouted: "Freedom, freedom. Biafra or nothing!", AFP reports.

The Igbo fought to break away from the rest of Nigeria during a three-year civil war that ended in 1970.

But Mr Uwazurike, who studied in India, says he is an admirer of the Indian nationalist leader Mahatma Gandi, who pursued a policy of non-violent civil disobedience.

Ethnic separatist crackdown

Mr Uwazurike is not the first ethnic separatist leader to be indicted recently.

Last month, Niger Delta militia leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari was put on trial for treason and two factional leaders of the south-western Yoruba Ooduna People's Congress were charged with murder.

Our correspondent says with general elections due in 2007, authorities may be trying to crackdown on these ethnic organisations.

Others believe the government is trying to prove that it is taking its war on corruption beyond official government circles, he says.

Several Massob members have died in the last three years in clashes with the police in south-eastern Nigeria, where it draws the bulk of its support.

The government is intolerant of its existence because it revives memories of the horrors of the Biafran war, in which one million people died.




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