Soyinka throws away medal in disgust as strike hardens

LAGOS (Reuter) - A leader of Nigeria's pro-democracy oil strike said yesterday that the stoppage would continue until Moshood Abiola, the civilian presidential claimant, was freed and all other demands met.

With peace talks on the three- week dispute set to resume today Wariebi Agamene, the President of Nupeng, one of the oil workers' unions, predicted that negotiations with Nigeria's military rulers would not be easy. 'We have a 10- point list of demands, none of which has been met,' he said.

Wole Soyinka, the Nobel laureate, angry that police halted a march he led in Lagos yesterday to demand an end to army rule and the release of Chief Abiola, threw away his 'national merit' medal. Mr Soyinka walked three miles with several hundred people from the Yaba district of Lagos to Tafawa Balewa Square in the city centre, witnesses said. 'They were singing 'free Abiola' and police stopped them entering the square,' said a journalist who followed the march.

Mr Soyinka, the winner of the Nobel prize for Literature in 1986, threw his medal to the ground and stamped his foot on it. The medal was awarded in 1986 by General Ibrahim Babangida, a former military ruler. It is awarded to Commanders of the Federal Republic, one of Nigeria's highest honours. Gen Babangida precipitated the current crisis by scrapping the 1993 presidential vote, widely believed to have been won by Chief Abiola, who is now charged with treason after he proclaimed himself President. Mr Soyinka and Chief Abiola are both from Ogun state, in South-west Nigeria, where sporadic protests have taken place against the politician's detention. The military government has said it is willing to release Chief Abiola but it insists he drop his claim to the presidency. Chief Abiola's family says this condition is not acceptable to him.

The government is expected to urge the unions to call off the strike today. The talks resume following the reappearance of Frank Kokori, Nupeng's missing Secretary-General, who emerged from hiding on Saturday saying he had gone underground for 18 days after escaping police arrest.