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Nigerian Vice President Rejects Party Suspension

The Nigerian vice president, Atiku Abubakar, has rejected his suspension for three months from the ruling party. The suspension rules Abubakar out as a candidate of the party for next year's presidential election.

The campaign office of the Nigerian vice president described his suspension from the ruling party as illegal and an evil plot to keep him out of the 2007 race.

Garba Shehu, a spokesman for the vice president, told VOA that the decision was taken despite a court order stopping the ruling People's Democratic Party, or PDP, from taking such action.

"Our reaction is that the suspension will not stand because we will go to court to challenge it. Because there is a subsisting court order to restrain the PDP from carrying out any disciplinary action against the vice president," he said. "This is consistent with what they have been doing, to stop him from presenting himself for the 2007 elections."

The ruling Peoples Democratic Party suspended Abubakar because of alleged corruption. President Olusegun Obasanjo sent a report to the national assembly earlier this month accusing Abubakar of corruption. The two leaders have been exchanging accusations of graft ever since.

The ruling party, now dominated by supporters of Mr. Obasanjo, would hold a convention to pick its presidential candidate in December. That means Abubakar, who is seeking the presidential candidacy in next year's elections, will not able to compete for the party's ticket.

Maxi Okwu, a lawyer and political analyst in Abuja, says the vice president has lost out in the power play.

"What they have done so far, they are using very superior tactics on the vice president. They've knocked him out of contention without picking a head-on collision, in terms of a showdown on the floor of the national assembly where the vice president has formidable forces assembled," said Okwu. "They have used language from the constitution to indict him and put him under the parameter of section 135 of the constitution disqualifying him contesting for office. They have now locked him out without taking too much risk, by suspending him till after the primaries."

The power tussle comes at a time of growing political tension ahead of crucial elections in Africa's most populous country.

Okwu says Abubakar's suspension from the ruling party could have profound implications for the political process in Nigeria.

"Anything can happen, any desperate person can employ desperate measures. And, I see some problems down the road," said Okwu. "How big a problem, I can't say for now. Some of us are very, very worried."

The PDP has been in power since Nigeria returned to civil democracy seven years ago, after nearly three decades of military rule. The party is regarded as having the best chance of winning the April 2007 elections.