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Nigerians take to the streets

LAGOS - Police fired tear gas to disperse youths in Lagos yesterday and mass protests against the scrapping of last month's presidential poll brought Nigeria's largest city to a virtual standstill.

Thousands of youths closed main roads in Lagos and police fired tear gas to disperse them in the city centre. Residents said one person was shot dead when rampaging youths tried to force their way into the central bank. There was no independent confirmation of this.

Many banks and businesses were shut by mid-afternoon and thousands of commuters were stranded after protests against the cancellation of the 12 June poll by the military government.

Protests involving several thousand people were also reported in the suburbs, where demonstrators manned barricades of tyres, rocks and debris on some main roads.

There were no reports of demonstrations elsewhere in the mainly Christian south-west, the political bastion of Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), who declared himself winner of the election based on unoffical results.

Yesterday's protests were called by the Campaign for Democracy (CD) pressure group and are supposed to last all week.

Mr Abiola urged pro-democracy protesters not to vent their anger against the army. 'This is not a civilian versus army issue,' Mr Abiola, 55, told supporters during the demonstrations, urging them to stay calm.

'The Nigerian army voted overwhelmingly for me on 12 June. The Nigerian army is not against democracy per se,' he added.

Mr Abiola also told the protesters: 'The SDP will not take part in any other election. It is 12 June or nothing.'

Some Lagos protesters called for President Ibrahim Babangida to step down and decried his order for a new vote.

The government scrapped the poll on 23 June, alleging malpractice. Gen Babangida, in power since 1985, ordered a fresh election and repeated a pledge to hand over power on 27 August.