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Tuesday, 17 March, 1998, 18:07 GMT
Nigerian opposition calls off rally
Abacha: widely expected to run for civilian presidency
Abacha: widely expected to run for civilian presidency
A Nigerian opposition coalition has called off a banned rally and "mass action" campaign against the military regime of General Sani Abacha that had been planned for Wednesday, the organisers say.

The United Action for Democracy (UAD) coalition of pro-democracy and human rights groups said it would not hold its protest, which had been scheduled to take place in the commercial capital Lagos in defiance of a police ban.

In a statement, the UAD said that the rally call issued on Sunday had been withdrawn because a demonstration by youth groups who were to be mobilised in support of General Abacha in Lagos State the same day had been cancelled.

"A principal reason for convening the United Action for Democracy (UAD) rally was to assert our democratic right to freely express our opinion in as equal a manner as those who profess opposite views," the statement said.

On March 3, police violently broke up a rally convened by the UAD in Lagos to coincide with a series of events staged in the federal capital Abuja in support of any attempt by General Abacha to transform himself into a civilian head of state.

Return to democratic government

General Abacha, who seized power in November 1993, has refused so far to say if he plans to stand in elections scheduled for later this year.

He has overseen a crackdown on pro-democracy movements while launching his own tightly controlled programme, ostensibly for handing over to elected civilians on October 1.

The United States has said that it would be unacceptable for General Abacha to run in the polls, but the junta has made no official response to this.

Nigeria has been suspended from the Commonwealth and is already subject to sanctions by the US and other countries over its human rights record.

The general, who initially scrapped democratic institutions and banned all political parties, has allowed several parties to emerge once more as part of his programme, but most of the leading opponents of his military rule are behind bars or in exile.

Braithwaite says he will stand

Tunji Braithwaite, a political maverick who has twice stood for Nigeria's highest office, has said he will run in this year's presidential poll under the banner of the Grass Root Democratic Movement (GDM).

The party is one of only five that have been authorised to participate in the elections, set for August 1 and designed to cap the proposed transition to civilian rule.

Observers have said Mr Braithwaith, 64, may be the only credible opponent to General Abacha if the military leader decides to run.

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