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Nigeria edges back to civilian rule

PARTIES DOMINATED by veterans of Nigeria's previous attempts at democracy took an early lead as partial results from local elections began to drift in yesterday.

Saturday's vote for 774 councils marks the first step in the military government's plan to restore civilian rule by May. Results from Kaduna state in the north and Edo in the south gave the People's Democratic Party (PDP) a strong lead over the All People's Party (APP), its closest rivals across Nigeria's 36 states. The Alliance for Democracy (AD) dominated the traditional heartland of opposition to military rule, winning three- quarters of the vote in the four south-western states for which results were available.

The centrist PDP was formed by veteran politicians opposed to the late dictator Sani Abacha, while many former Abacha supporters belong to the APP.

The left-of-centre AD was expected to triumph in the south-west, which has felt cheated since the 1993 presidential elections were annulled as the local tycoon Moshood Abiola was poised to win. He died in detention in July and many of the party's leaders were his backers. The elections were a crucial test for the nine competing parties - and a vote of confidence in General Abdulsalami Abubakar's plan to step down, ending 15 years of military rule. (Reuter)