Nigeria tense awaiting Abiola autopsy results
Opposition leader may be buried SaturdayJuly 10, 1998
Web posted at: 9:43 p.m. EDT (0143 GMT)
LAGOS, Nigeria (CNN) -- Tensions remained high in Nigeria on Friday as a team of international pathologists arrived to perform an independent autopsy on opposition leader Moshood Abiola, who collapsed and died Tuesday while meeting with a U.S. delegation.
Fresh violence was reported in parts of the country Friday. But by late in the day, a degree of calm had returned to Lagos, Nigeria's largest city and commercial capital, which has been the scene of rioting in the wake of Abiola's death.
Abiola family members said the independent autopsy by pathologists from Britain, the United States and Canada was scheduled for Saturday at the earliest. His doctor, Ore Falomo, said it could be conducted overnight, with burial to follow on Saturday. Family members said the funeral would be public.
A grave for Abiola, a Muslim, has been dug on the grounds of his Lagos mansion, at the base of a coconut tree next to the grave of Simbiat, the first of his wives. Scores of mourners have kept vigil at the home since his death.
The government has already conducted its own autopsy but hasn't released the results.
Abiola, the apparent winner of presidential elections in 1993 that were annulled by the military, had been imprisoned for the last four years.
Despite claims by government officials that a heart attack was the apparent cause of his death, his supporters suspect he was killed by the military junta -- even as it was preparing to set him free.
Violence claims at least 50; 400 arrested
Violence that has broken out in the wake of Abiola's death has killed more than 50 people, and police say they have arrested more than 400. Ethnic and regional tensions appear to be contributing to the strife.
Abiola, from southern Nigeria, was a member of the Yoruba ethnic group, or tribe. Many leaders of Nigeria's military come from northern Nigeria and belong to the Hausa tribe.
Many of those killed in the violence were members of the Hausa and related Fulani groups, said military junta commander Col. Hamed Ali.
Witnesses in Nigeria's second largest city of Ibadan said trouble broke out Friday between Abiola loyalists and traders whose origins lie in the north. At least two people were killed.
In another sign of deepening ethnic strife, police in Lagos found the bodies of nine slain members of the ethnic Hausa group in a neighborhood dominated by their Yoruba rivals.
Youths who rampaged for the third straight day in Lagos with knives, clubs and bows and arrows were described by police as jobless, disenfranchised Yorubas. Violence had ended by late in the afternoon Friday, but streets in some neighborhoods remained tense and were watched over by scores of police and soldiers, wearing helmets and flak jackets.
Yoruba leaders urge restraint
Yoruba leaders have been calling for restraint and have also appealed for the military's help in stopping reprisals. On Friday, Abiola's son, Kola, also appealed for calm.
"Let us be tolerant and exercise more patience," he told hundreds of angry youths camped outside Abiola's Lagos mansion. "We appeal to you to continue to be calm and accommodating."
The junta, meanwhile, tried to set a tone of reconciliation in the face of ongoing violence by commuting death sentences handed down to six people, including a former military leader accused of trying to overthrow the late dictator Gen. Sani Abacha.
Abacha died of a heart attack in June and was replaced by Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar.
Bowing to internal and external pressure, Abubakar's government announced it will set up a commission of top officials to sketch out the broad outline for a transition to democracy. Abubakar says he will publicly explain the plan next week.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday he had been in touch with Abubakar, who promised to forge ahead with plans to return Nigeria to civilian rule.
The country's leaders met late Thursday night to discuss plans to hand over power to civilians and release Nigeria's remaining political prisoners.
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