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1998: Chief's death sparks turmoil in Nigeria

At least 19 people have been killed in riots in Nigeria's biggest city, Lagos, following the death of the opposition leader.

Thousands have taken to the streets after hearing about the sudden death of the popular politician, Chief Moshood Abiola, at 1400 GMT.

Mobs of young men ran through Lagos - a major centre of support for Chief Abiola - shouting and smashing and burning cars.

For many Nigerians he represented democracy and freedom and he was expected to return to power after the death last month of the military dictator General Sani Abacha.

Chief Abiola has been in custody since 1994, a year after the military regime - led by General Abacha - annulled the democratic election that looked likely to return him as president.

The 60-year-old collapsed in front of a delegation from Washington which was there to help secure his release.

Officially Chief Abiola, like General Abacha, died from a heart attack but his relatives and others have alleged that he was murdered by the military.

Reaction

President Clinton has tried to allay these fears by making a statement about the Chief's death which was witnessed by US envoys.

Hundreds have swarmed the gates of Chief Abiola's house to express their grief and find out how he died.

The regime has agreed to carry out an internationally monitored post-mortem with the permission of Chief Abiola's family.

Nigeria's interim leader General Abdusalam Abubaker is expected to speak on television to offer a schedule for elections and reforms.

The unrest in Lagos reflects the dissatisfaction with military rule and the traditional ethnic tensions between the northern, Hausa speaking people - who lead the military - and southern Yoruba area, where Chief Abiola came from.

In Context
The riots lasted for four days and left up to 60 dead.

The international autopsy took place on 12 July and confirmed that Chief Abiola had died of natural causes.

Encouraged by visits from the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, General Abubaker had already started releasing political prisoners.

Chief Abiola was to have been part of this amnesty in return for surrendering his claims to the presidency.

His death left a power vacuum in the opposition.

General Abubaker continued with the transition to democracy and in March 1999 former general Olusegun Obasanjo won the presidential elections to become the first civilian leader in 15 years.


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