March 30, 2011 / 6:39 AM / 8 years ago

Bomb scare disrupts opposition rally in NE Nigeria

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Police in Nigeria’s northeastern city of Maiduguri thwarted a plot to bomb an opposition party election rally on Tuesday, while gunmen shot dead five people in separate incidents.

Violence has marred the run-up to elections next month in the remote city in Borno state near Nigeria’s borders with Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Politicians, religious leaders and police officers have been targeted in a spate of killings.

The attacks have been blamed on Boko Haram, a radical Islamist sect behind an uprising which killed hundreds of people in 2009, but residents and diplomats suspect they are primarily politically motivated.

Police commissioner Mohammed Abubaker said the security forces had been tipped off about a threat ahead of an election rally by the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP).

“We received information that some people had completed training and were coming to attack some targets in Maiduguri ... We succeeded in arresting some of them with explosives meant to disrupt the ANPP rally,” he said.

Africa’s most populous nation holds presidential, parliamentary and state governorship elections next month and Borno is considered one of the main flashpoints.

It is controlled by the ANPP, an opposition party, but its governor is set to step down. The party’s candidate to replace him, Modu Fannami Gubio, was followed from a mosque in January by gunmen on motorbikes who killed him outside his home.

A youth leader from the party was also killed on Sunday.

Residents in Maiduguri, a sandswept city in one of Nigeria’s poorest regions, have grown used to almost daily killings and were already on high alert ahead of the election rally.

But news of the bomb threat and of three separate shootings which killed five people as ANPP supporters headed towards a central square for the rally meant most abandoned the event.

Those who did attend walked with their hands in the air to show they were unarmed.

The violence has been largely contained in Maiduguri and on its own does not risk derailing the national elections.

But it does diminish the prospects of a credible vote in a remote corner of Nigeria which already feels politically and economically isolated from the rest of the country and where radical Islamists have built a growing following.

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