NIGERIAN security forces killed at least 11 demonstrators yesterday, according to an African news agency, as protests against the cancellation of the 12 June election brought the centre of Lagos to a halt for the second day running.
The military government of President Ibrahim Babangida is reported to have threatened to disband the two political parties which contested the election and other civilian institutions unless they accept new elections on 31 July.
The armed forces have been ordered to help the police restore order in the former capital.
Thousands of demonstrators, demanding that the government recognise the results of the election, yesterday built barricades of burning cars, buses and tyres in the streets of Lagos, the commercial capital, and blocked three bridges in the city centre. The demonstrators, confronting armed police, demanded that Mashood Abiola, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party who won the election, should be made head of state. The Pan-African News Agency reported that soldiers opened fire in the wealthy residential area of Ikoyi, piled the dead bodies on to a lorry and drove away.
Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party is coming under intense pressure from the government to accept cancellation of the elections and put up a new candidate for another election. President Babangida is trying to win over previously banned leading politicians by offering them the chance to stand in the new elections. But, according to Amos Idakula, national publicity secretary of the SDP, he has threatened to dissolve all political structures set up to return Nigeria to civil rule if the party refuses fresh elections or an interim national government.
The SDP national executive is to meet this morning and a meeting with representatives of the National Republican Party and President Babangida is scheduled for the afternoon.
So far the SDP has stood firm, but this is not simply a trial of strength between the military and civilians. The street demonstrations are largely in western Nigeria, Mr Abiola's home territory. Although he received remarkably broad support throughout the whole country in the election there have been no popular demonstrations against the cancellation of the election in other parts of the country.
A much greater threat to President Babangida comes from within the military itself. The resignation of Colonel Abubakar Umar, a close associate of the President, has been described by one Western diplomat as merely the tip of the iceberg.
The Africa Confidential newsletter reports that the nine military members of the all-powerful National Defence and Security Council are deeply divided over President Babangida's decision to cancel the elections, with figures such as Gen Sani Abacha, the Secretary of Defence, and at least two other members expressing grave doubts about his commitment to return to civilian rule by 27 August.
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