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Nigeria suspended from Commonwealth

Local populace stunned by dissident executions

November 11, 1995
Web posted at: 11:20 p.m. EST

LAGOS, Nigeria (CNN) -- Nigeria was suspended Saturday from the Commonwealth, a grouping of Britain and its former colonies, for executing nine environmentalists including Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Nelson Mandela

South African President Nelson Mandela, whose country is part of the 52-member Commonwealth, said that since all attempts at "persuasive diplomacy" had failed, it was time to take tougher action against Nigeria's military regime. (48K AIFF sound or 48K WAV sound)

David Attah, a spokesman for Nigeria's head Gen. Sani Abacha, told BBC World Service radio that Nigeria was sad and displeased at the suspension. "We see it as most unfortunate, unfair and baseless, and it doesn't seem to approximate events and developments in Nigeria," he said.

The people of Nigeria, like the rest of the world, were stupefied by Friday's executions. These were the fastest executions in the West African nation's history, said the president of the Nigerian Medical Association.

Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight friends were put to death 10 days after they were convicted of the murder of four leaders of the Ogoni ethnic community.

In a press statement, the National Association of Nigerian Students declared the country's military leader, Gen. Sani Abacha, a "persona non grata, and said they would not hesitate to vent their anger.

Nigerian paper

But all was quiet in the Southern city of Port Harcourt, where the executions took place. The military regime was taking no chances, however, deploying riot police and tanks to quell any protest that might erupt.

Nigerian human rights activists urged the Commonwealth and the United States on Sunday to turn the screws on Nigeria's military government by boycotting its oil.

Nigerian opposition groups have long pleaded to the world to impose economic sanctions on the country. They argue that it is the only way to force Abacha's regime to restore democracy.

The United States, which buys half of Nigeria's oil, told Reuters that it was not considering an oil embargo against the country.

One crisis after another has rocked Africa's most populous nation since 1993, when the army annulled a presidential election. Last month, yielding to pressure from the West, Abacha commuted the death sentences of more than 40 people including former ruler Olusegun Obasango. They allegedly had plotted to overthrow the military government.

Saro-Wiwa, 54, had championed the rights of the Ogoni people, who make up a tiny part of Nigeria's population.

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