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21 dead in Nigeria poll violence

world Updated: Apr 16, 2007 11:35 IST

At least 21 people died over the weekend during state polls in Nigeria as tensions mounted in the volatile and sprawling west African nation ahead of presidential and general elections next Saturday.

Soldiers fanned out across major cities in the continent's top oil producer for a second day on Sunday to quell election-related unrest after serious irregularities and violence marred Saturday's regional vote.

"We have about 21 persons killed including some police officers while trying to protect INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) officers," national police boss Sunday Ehindero told Radio Nigeria after Saturday's vote.

"Of course we have some wounded too -- about 14. We have some arms recovered. We have about 218 suspects arrested."

Local media gave wildly divergent figures for Saturday's casualties, ranging from about 40 to more than 130, but all were far higher than official police figures. Ehindero said his figure of 21 deaths could yet rise.

"As of now, it could be more than that. We have 87 cases reported throughout the country, including arson, murder cases, thumb-printing of ballot papers etc.," he said.

The regional vote is being seen as a litmus test for the success of next Saturday's elections, expected to usher in Nigeria's first civilian-to-civilian transition since the former British colony gained independence in 1960.

Police have banned any form of gathering in support or against the results of Saturday's polls amid fears of serious unrest in key states such as Lagos, where the governorship is a position of considerable clout.