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Thursday, April 16, 1998 Published at 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK

World: Africa

Nigerian party adopts Abacha as candidate

Nigeria's strongest political party, the United Nigeria Congress, has adopted the military leader, General Sani Abacha, as its candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for August.

Three of the other four political parties have also indicated that they willl adopt General Abacha at their conventions later this week, paving the way for him to stay on in power after the elections.

General Abacha took power in 1993 after the military annulled democratic presidential elections and he pledged to hand over power to a democratically elected civilian government by the start of October this year.

But presidential elections could be made meaningless if the other parties do adopt General Abacha as their candidate. The only party considering viable, alternative candidates is the Grassroots Democratic Movement; one possibility is a former police chief, M D Yosuf.

Clamour of support

The BBC Lagos correspondent says General Abacha has not stated publicly that he wants to stand for president, apparently biding his time carefully. Political commentators seem agreed that at a certain point the general will simply state that he has no choice but to stand because of the clamour of support for him.

[ image: Pope John Paul visited Nigeria last month, during which he called for human rights to be respected]
Pope John Paul visited Nigeria last month, during which he called for human rights to be respected
His critics however complain that they have not been allowed to participate freely in the political process and say the parties were hand-picked by the government.

Police fire on crowd

On Wednesday, hundreds of people protested against a pro-Abacha rally being held in the town of Ibadan. The police fired on the crowd to put the demonstration down.

The BBC correspondent says it is a sign that as a date for the handover to civilian rule approaches, tensions are not subsiding but instead are on the rise.

The United Nigeria Congress Party swept the polls in recent local and state elections, albeit amidst allegations of vote-rigging and a very low turnout.

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