- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2003

LAGOS, Nigeria Nigerian soldiers opened fire on young men at a polling station yesterday, killing six persons, and a gang stuffed ballot boxes into the trunk of a car during presidential elections in this oil-rich, yet desperately poor nation.
Despite those and several other incidents, observers said the vote for president and 36 state governors in Africa's most populous nation went smoothly.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is seeking a second term and seems likely to win after his ruling party swept legislative elections a week ago. Three of his challengers were former army generals and he, too, was a military leader before he shed his uniform for traditional robes and was elected president four years ago.
Nigeria has never had a peaceful transition from one civilian government to another and, though tensions remained high after polling stations closed, the violence did not appear to be widespread.
The shooting occurred in the oil-producing Niger Delta, where many boycotted the balloting. Soldiers in the town of Okoroba started shooting at youths who refused to disperse from a polling station, said Derrick Marco, leader of election observers from the Institute of Democracy in South Africa.
Elsewhere in the region, ethnic Ijaw militants boycotted the vote, and there was no sign of voting in one village, Ogbe-Ijoh.
Many of Mr. Obasanjo's opponents charged that last week's legislative vote was rigged and said that their supporters would be ready to fight if the ruling party used fraud in the presidential vote.
Out of Nigeria's population of 126 million, 61 million people were registered for the balloting. It was not clear how many voted, though officials said turnout was high.
Election Commission chief Abel Guobadia said he was satisfied with the voting, despite some irregularities. Results are likely to emerge tomorrow or Tuesday, he said.
The balloting poses the stiffest test to Nigerian democracy since Mr. Obasanjo's 1999 election ended 15 years of brutal military rule.
The elections four years ago were overseen by the military. Previous civilian-run elections were overturned by army coups.
Several opposition leaders said that their supporters might turn violent if there was evidence of rigging. Muhammadu Buhari one of the three former generals challenging Mr. Obasanjo has threatened "mass action," a term that in Nigeria generally refers to violent protests.
There were scattered signs of corruption.
In Warri, an Associated Press photographer saw 10 young men loading empty ballot boxes and bundles of voting cards into a car outside an Election Commission headquarters. When he took a picture, some of the youths slapped and punched him until he managed to get away.



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