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Ministers rally behind jailed politician

CHURCH officials and other prominent Nigerians have used the Easter season to appeal for freedom for the winner of Nigeria's annulled presidential elections.

The military dictatorship of Gen. Sani Abacha imprisoned Moshood Abiola last June, a year after Mr. Abiola was on his way to winning elections annulled by the outgoing dictator.

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The prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Sunday Mbang, and other clerics on Sunday asked the Abacha regime to release Abiola.

He has been held without bail on treason charges since declared himself president last June -- and repeatedly refused the offer of release conditional on his bowing out of politics. Hundreds of his most vocal supporters have been similarly jailed.

''Abiola is an issue that cannot be run away from,'' Mr. Mbang said.

Notably, support for Abiola came from key figures from northern Nigeria, General Abacha's homeland.

The north of Nigeria is predominantly Muslim by religion and Hausa by ethnicity, while the southwest -- Abiola's power base -- is predominantly Christian and Yoruba. A forum of northern Nigerians also called for Abiola's release, arguing that even though they hadn't wanted Abiola to be president he did not deserve indefinite punishment.

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