Nigerian independence day blasts kill eight

2010-10-01 15:09

Abuja – Twin car bombings close to where Nigeria was marking 50 years of independence killed eight people in the capital following a warning from oil militants, police have said.

The explosions that rocked the area near Abuja’s Eagle Square today failed to halt the anniversary celebrations attended by the country’s leaders and foreign delegations.

“There were two car bomb explosions,” police spokesperson Moshood Jimoh said.

 “Eight people who were bystanders were confirmed dead and three were seriously injured.”

A senior police officer and a top intelligence officer were among the dead, their colleagues said.

An intelligence officer said: “There were more casualties at the second explosion because the first explosion drew crowds to the scene, which is close to the second explosion.”

Firefighters, police and bomb disposal experts were at the scene about 10 minutes’ walk from the square, where at least 10 cars were destroyed while glass and blood could be seen on the ground.

An AFP journalist counted six bodies as emergency workers moved in with body bags.

Independence celebrations, however, continued nearby, with a military parade in progress, music and cheering.

“We heard the first explosion and rushed there,” one witness said.

“All of a sudden we heard another loud explosion behind us.”

The blasts followed a warning of explosions from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) militant group, who said those attending the independence celebrations should evacuate.

“With due respect to all invited guests, dignitaries and attendees of the 50th independence anniversary of Nigeria being held today ... the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is asking everyone to begin immediate evacuation of the entire area within the next 30 minutes,” it said.

“This warning expires after 10.30am (local time). Several explosive devices have been successfully planted in and around the venue by our operatives working inside the government security services. In evacuating the area, keep a safe distance from vehicles and trash bins.”

Mend has staged scores of attacks in the oil-rich Niger Delta in recent years, claiming to be fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue.

However, thousands of oil militants signed up to a government amnesty programme last year and unrest in the region has been greatly reduced.

Mend has usually attacked pipelines and other oil industry installations in the past, today’s explosions are believed to be their first strike in the capital if the group is proved to be responsible.

“There is nothing worth celebrating after 50 years of failure,” Mend said in a statement.

“For 50 years, the people of the Niger Delta have had their land and resources stolen from them.”

In an earlier address marking independence day, President Goodluck Jonathan said the government was committed to seeing through the amnesty.

Nigeria will hold presidential, state and legislative elections early next year, and observers have warned of violence as the ballot approaches.

Jonathan, who took power in May following the death of president Umaru Yar’Adua, is running in the elections.

He is a native of the Niger Delta, the heart of the country’s oil industry, and is under pressure to resolve the situation in the region.

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