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Nigeria calling for peace

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 30, 2007


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ABUJA, Nigeria - President Umaru Yar'Adua used his inaugural address Tuesday to appeal for an immediate end to the violence that has slashed crude production in Nigeria's oil heartland, and the largest militant group said it would consider the overture.

The prospect of increased output for Africa's biggest oil country and a major U.S. supplier sent prices down on international markets.

Yar'Adua's unusually conciliatory overture highlighted the challenge that oil-related violence poses as he struggles to establish legitimacy after an April election victory denounced as fraudulent by the opposition and called not credible by international observers.

It was in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, who considered the militants simple criminals. In his farewell address Monday, Obasanjo didn't mention the southern oil region and the 18 months of attacks on the oil industry that have cut output by a third.

Yar'Adua, 56, who had Obasanjo's support in the election, used his first speech as president to say the impoverished Niger Delta's troubles needed "urgent attention" and he promised to act quickly to address them.

"In the meantime, I urge all aggrieved communities, groups and individuals to immediately suspend all violent activities and respect the law, " he said. "Let us allow the dialogue to take place in a conducive atmosphere."

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which is the biggest militant group in the delta and previously insisted it would not lay down arms until the government met its demands to improve conditions in the region, said it would study the new president's appeal.

Militant groups say their violence is aimed at forcing the federal government to funnel more oil revenues to the Niger Delta.

In taking the oath of office before Chief Justice Idris Kutigi, Yar'Adua pledged to uphold Nigeria's unity and pursue its best interests. It was the first time in Nigeria's coup-riddled history of nearly six decades that power passed between two civilians.

Yar'Adua addressed the election controversy head on, agreeing there were flaws in the voting, during which thugs openly sold ballot papers and intimidated voters. He said he would reform Nigeria's electoral system.

[Last modified May 30, 2007, 01:30:12]


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