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Babangida says Nigeria will have fresh elections

ABUJA (Agencies) - The Nigerian military President, Ibrahim Babangida, said last night the country would hold fresh presidential elections to replace the elections his government annulled on Wednesday. The two candidates who ran earlier - Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party and Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention - are barred from competing.

General Babangida gave no date for the elections but said two new candidates would be picked from the two existing political parties by the end of July and a civilian government would be in place on 27 August as he previously promised. 'The National Defence and Security Council has decided that by the end of July 1993, the two political parties, under the supervision of a recomposed National Electoral Commission, will put in place the necessary process for the emergence of two presidential candidates,' General Babangida said.

General Babangida set new restrictions on who can stand to be president. Candidates must be at least 50 years old, believe in the corporate existence of Nigeria and must have joined one of the two parties at least one year before the election. The first rule excludes Mr Tofa, who is 45, and the last Mr Abiola, who is 55 but joined the SDP at the beginning of this year.

Another condition is that candidates must 'possess records of personal, corporate and business interest which do not conflict with the national interests'.

General Babangida said the conditions were being imposed 'as a way of widening and deepening the base of electing the president and sanitising the electoral process'.

Mr Abiola, a wealthy southerner, was well ahead of Mr Tofa, a northerner, before the authorities stopped releasing partial results from the elections of 12 June.

General Babangida said politicians previously banned from participating in the transition to civilian rule were now free to join the new race. 'This is with the view to enriching the quality of candidature for the election and at the same time tap the leadership resources of our country to the fullest,' he said.

The government banned 23 presidential hopefuls in November after fraudulent, and subsequently scrapped, party primaries in August and September.

General Babangida said yesterday his administration scrapped the elections of 12 June because of major malpractices, both before and during the voting. NEC officials had been bribed, he said.

'There were proofs as well as documented evidence of widespread use of money during the party primaries as well as the presidential election,' he said.

'Evidence available to the government put the total amount of money spent by the presidential candidates as over 2,100 million naira (about pounds 70m),' he added.

In Washington the State Department warned US citizens not to travel to Nigeria because of the threat of escalating violence, and advised its citizens to consider leaving the country.