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Equatorial Guinea Urges Spain to Extradite Coup Planner - 2004-03-14

The president of Equatorial Guinea has threatened to end diplomatic relations with Spain unless it extradites the opposition leader Severo Moto who is accused of planning a coup to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea.

Thousands of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema's supporters have turned out over the weekend to show their support for the government after the alleged coup attempt was discovered earlier in the week.

During the rally President Obiang said Spain must choose between allowing the exiled Severo Moto to remain in residence or cutting ties with its former colony.

President Obiang has accused Mr. Moto of planning the coup after 15 mercenaries were arrested in the oil-rich West African nation on Tuesday. One, identified as Nick du Toit, appeared on national television and reportedly admitted he was part of a plan to remove President Obiang from power and replace him with the exiled Mr. Moto. Mr. Moto insists he had nothing to do with the recent plot. However, he admits attempting another coup against the same government in 1997.

The government says the mercenaries arrested in Equatorial Guinea were to join more than 60 others who are currently detained in Zimbabwe after flying there from South Africa.

Officials in Harare, suspicious about what the plane was carrying, seized the craft and arrested the men, who are mainly South African. They are being charged with unlawful entry into Zimbabwe by using forged travel documents, misrepresenting their reasons for entry and purchasing firearms without a license.

The men have been held for nearly a week and have yet to go before the court.

If convicted, they could face the death penalty. Supporters of President Obiang are demanding the same fate for the 15 being held in Equatorial Guinea.