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Tuesday, March 3, 1998 Published at 20:55 GMT

World: Africa

Nigerian police break-up anti-government march
image: [ Marchers were opposing General Abacha ]
Marchers were opposing General Abacha

Heavily-armed police have broken-up a rally of 5,000 anti-government protesters in Lagos, Nigeria. The march was the biggest of its kind in recent years.

The police used tear gas to disperse the crowd and arrested 20 people.

Chief Gani Fawehinmi, a leading opposition figure, condemned the government for banning the demonstration while another in favour of the ruling General Sani Abacha was allowed to proceed.

The pro-government rally in Abuja, which has so far cost around $6m, is being seen as the start of General Abacha's campaign to stay on as Nigeria's leader.

The General has pledged to hand over to civilian rule later this year.

The Abuja event has been dubbed the 'Two Million Man march', although only around 20,000 people are believed to have attended so far.

The country's major musicians and football stars have been recruited to the carnival.

Opposition groups believe the government has provided a large amount of the funding for the march and that people have been paid to turn up.

The rally organisers have denied this. They say it is a sign that the people want General Abacha to lead Nigeria into a democratic future.

Youth groups, who are the official organisers of the rally, are sporting "Abacha 98" tee-shirts and baseball caps, and the streets have been covered in Abacha posters.

One poster has even dubbed the general, who has been ostracised by the world for his record on human rights, "Saint Abacha".

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