Bomb warnings forced British VIPs to cancel Nigerian visit

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The former prime minister Gordon Brown and other senior UK dignitaries pulled out of Nigeria's 50th-anniversary celebrations this weekend after security warnings, the Foreign Office admitted yesterday. Bomb attacks before the opening ceremony in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, killed 12 people on Friday. Seventeen others were seriously injured.

Foreign Office officials said they had received "indications of a heightened security risk" prior to the parades taking place. As a result, the Duke of Gloucester, who was scheduled to attend as the Queen's personal representative, withdrew and Mr Brown cancelled his visit to the country altogether.

The rebel Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), which is fighting for a fairer distribution of Nigeria's oil revenues, said it carried out the bombings.

In a statement it said: "There is nothing worth celebrating after 50 years of failure. For 50 years, the people of the Niger Delta have had their land and resources stolen from them." They accused officials of ignoring the warnings they sent before the bomb blasts.

Yesterday, news agency reports quoted President Goodluck Jonathan as saying: "It has nothing to do with Mend... These are terrorists."

The Foreign Office said: "Security for VIP visitors is always kept under rigorous review. We remain in constant contact with the Nigerian authorities on this."

Nigeria's This Day newspaper reported yesterday that British intelligence had warned the Nigerian authorities of possible attacks.

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, condemned the bombings as "cowardly and contemptible". "My thoughts are with those injured and the families of those who have lost their lives," he said.