Nigeria's leader promises amnesty

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The Independent Online
Nigeria's military ruler dissolved his cabinet yesterday and and said he was granting an amnesty for some political prisoners in a speech to mark the fourth anniversary of his seizure of power.

General Sani Abacha, speaking in a radio and television address, said his government had decided to free "those detained persons whose release would constitute no further impediment to the peace and security of the country".

Gen Abacha, whose government has been accused of holding hundreds of political prisoners, did not say which detainees, or how many, would be freed. He did not mention Nigeria's best-known prisoner, the businessman Moshood Abiola, who was the presumed winner of the aborted elections in 1993.

Gen Abacha also said he was dissolving his cabinet, noting that a number of officials had indicated that they wanted to play larger roles in Nigeria's political transition. Saying Nigeria was about to "embark on the final lap of the tenure of this administration", Gen Abacha said his move followed indications from ministers that they wanted to "fully participate in the political process".

He has promised to hold elections next year, handing power to a civilian government on 1 October. Pro-democracy groups, however, say he will probably orchestrate the election to ensure that he remains in power indefinitely.

The general also used his speech to attack Nigeria's independent media, which has faced repeated arrests and crackdowns, as well as to round on foreign critics of his regime. - AP, Abuja

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