Nigerian politicians freed after election fraud row

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ABUJA, Sep 15 (Reuters) Eight Nigerian politicians have been freed after being held for a week by an armed group demanding payment for helping the ruling party rig elections in April, Nigerian newspapers reported today.

The kidnappers abducted 11 activists of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), including a local government council chairman, in southwestern Ondo state last Saturday during a party meeting. Three of them were released earlier in the week.

The armed group demanded a ransom of 500 million naira (4 million dollars) as payment for its role in the PDP's landslide victory in Ondo during elections in April.

The newspapers quoted the state government and the kidnappers as saying the remaining eight hostages had been released yesterday. The reports did not say whether any ransom had been paid.

The armed gang had threatened to release pictures of government officials supplying weapons and of fighters falsifying results in their camps.

Nigeria held elections for president, state governors and members of the state and national assemblies in April but vote-rigging and intimidation were so widespread that European Union observers condemned the polls as ''not credible''.

The official result in Ondo gave sitting Governor Olusegun Agagu a landslide victory. It is one of dozens of results being challenged by opposition parties at election tribunals across the country.

Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999 after three decades of almost continuous army rule, but violence remains at the heart of the political system. The use of gangs by politicians to intimidate voters or opponents and steal ballot boxes and result sheets on polling day is a common problem.

Nigeria's chief of police said earlier this week that unpaid debts by politicians to the criminals who helped them win elections were fuelling a spate of abductions.


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