Nigerian capital rocked by bombs on 50th independence anniversary

President of Zambia Rupiah Banda is the special guest at the celebrations

Two car bombs went off in Nigeria’s capital today and a third explosion hit a venue where the president was celebrating the country’s 50th independence anniversary.

The bombs, which left at least seven people dead, came after Nigeria’s main militant group warned there was “nothing worth celebrating after 50 years of failure” in Africa’s most populous nation, which is oil-rich but where most people live on less than $1 a day.

The attacks are among the militants’ boldest yet, striking in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, during an event with heavy security, held hundreds of miles from the Niger delta region where the militants are based.

A car bomb detonated as a military formation began to march at Eagle Square, where President Goodluck Jonathan was appearing for the celebration.

Five minutes later, a second car bomb went off, killing at least seven people, a police officer told an Associated Press reporter at the scene. At least one of the dead was a policeman, the officer said. The officer spoke on the condition of anonymity, as he was not authorised to speak to reporters.

In Eagle Square, a reporter saw a small explosive detonate before members of the military gathered there. A security agent was seen lying on the ground near that blast.

The anniversary ceremony continued without interruption, though those present clearly recognised that something had gone wrong.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the main militant group in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta, had issued a threat to journalists this morning.

“For 50 years, the people of the Niger delta have had their land and resources stolen from them,” the statement read. “The constitution before independence which offered resource control was mutilated by illegal military governments and this injustice is yet to be addressed.”

Upset by oil spills and the region’s unceasing poverty, militants in the delta have targeted pipelines, kidnapped petroleum company workers and fought government troops since 2006. The violence subsided after a government-sponsored amnesty deal last year, which provided cash payoffs for fighters and the promise of job training. However, many ex-fighters now complain that the government has failed to fulfil its promises.

The militants have used car bombs before. In March, they detonated two near a government building in the Niger delta where officials were discussing the amnesty deal, wounding two people in an attack heard live on television.

In April 2006, militants claimed responsibility for attacks on an army barracks and an oil refinery during which two people were killed. They also detonated a car bomb outside a state governor’s office in December 2006.

Nigeria, a member of Opec, is one of the top crude oil suppliers to the US.

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