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Tuesday, 21 April, 1998, 07:34 GMT 08:34 UK
Nigeria attacked for scrapping election
Britain and the US say General Abacha should be more democratic
Britain and the United States have criticised the Nigerian Government's decision to cancel presidential elections due in August, and hold a referendum instead.

The decision was taken after all five officially authorised political parties in Nigeria backed the military leader General Sani Abacha as their candidate.

In the referendum, to be held on August 1, Nigerians will vote either for or against General Sani Abacha.

The British Government said cancelling elections would not help the political process in Nigeria.

The Foreign Office Minister Tony Lloyd said: "It is difficult to see how an election in which only a single candidate is put forward by all five registered, and government-sponsored, parties, can be judged free, fair and inclusive."

US State Department spokesman James Rubin accused the Nigerian Government of manipulating the transition to democracy to secure General Abacha's nomination.

"Thus far, we believe this transition that he promised in June 1994 is seriously and fatally flawed," he said.

"We urge General Abacha to live up to his promise to his fellow Nigerians and the entire world and to refuse the nomination so that a genuine transition to civilian democratic rule may take place in the August elections."

Nigeria has said the general might stand as a military officer, not a civilian.

Abacha's struggle to hold power

The BBC Lagos correspondent says presidential elections are a key part of the military's four-year-old promise to hand over power to a civilian government this year.

Opposition groups say the political process has been manipulated
General Abacha had publicly refused to put himself forward as a candidate.

However there have been a rapid series of political developments over the last few days, which seem designed to allow the general to claim his hand is being forced.

On Monday, the Grassroots Democratic Movement became the last of the five government-registered political parties to adopt the general as its presidential candidate, although there were tense scenes in the hall as the voting took place.

When the party's constitution was hurriedly amended to allow the general, a non-party member, to be nominated, some of his opponents started shouting in fury: "We don't want cheating. We don't want Abacha".

About 20 armed riot police entered the hall and stayed there throughout the rest of the proceedings.

Opposition boycott

Nigeria's political opposition has said it will boycott elections for a national assembly due to take place on Saturday, and any elections thereafter.

The opposition has called on its supporters to embark on a programme of mass action to disrupt the government's political programme.

Civil unrest has been on the rise over the last two months in Nigeria, as the well-organised campaign for General Abacha to stay on in power has gained momentum.

See also:

09 Oct 98 | Despatches
Nigeria under Commonwealth spotlight
18 Apr 98 | Africa
Nigeria parties back Abacha
20 Apr 98 | Africa
Abacha to face election unopposed
20 Apr 98 | Analysis
Nigeria: A history of dictatorship
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