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World - Africa

Nigerian opposition leader Abiola dies

July 7, 1998
Web posted at: 2:52 p.m. EDT (1852 GMT)

ABUJA, Nigeria (CNN) -- Nigerian opposition leader Moshood Abiola died Tuesday of an apparent heart attack after falling ill during a meeting with a U.S. delegation, the Nigerian government said.

A statement from the government said, "The federal government regrets to announce the sudden death of Chief MKO Abiola at about 4 p.m. this afternoon, apparently of cardiac arrest.

"Chief Abiola was taken ill during a meeting which was being held by Nigerian and United States officials with him."

The government said that, with the agreement of Abiola's family, a "full post-mortem examination to ascertain the actual cause of death" would be held with Abiola's doctors participating.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan returned from Nigeria last week and said the new government had agreed to free political prisoners, including Abiola, from jail.

In 1994, Abiola was put in prison under the orders of then military ruler Gen. Sani Abacha after Abiola declared himself president, following elections the previous year that he was widely believed to have won.

U.S. mission extended by one day

The announcement of Abiola's death came the same day that a high-level U.S. mission to Nigeria extended its stay by one day after meetings with military ruler Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar and other officials.

Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering led the biggest U.S. delegation to Nigeria since a political crisis erupted after Abacha annulled the 1993 elections.

Relations between the United States and Nigeria have thawed rapidly since Abacha's death on June 8 and his replacement by Abubakar.

The purpose of the delegation's visit was to encourage democracy and human rights in Nigeria, the United States' biggest trading partner in Africa.

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