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Nigeria's President Wins Challenge to Election Victory

A Nigerian election tribunal has upheld President Umaru Yar'Adua's victory last April, despite allegations of widespread rigging. Gilbert da Costa was in the courtroom in Abuja and filed this report for VOA.

The five-man panel of judges ruled in favor of preserving the status quo by endorsing a flawed election that gave the ruling party a landslide victory.

Opposition candidates, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari and former vice president Atiku Abubakar challenged the result before the tribunal. The petitioners alleged ballot papers were not numbered serially, compilation of voter registers were late, and the timing of the April 21 vote, and reports of widespread fraud violated the election law and the vote should be annulled.

Lead judge Abdulkadir Jega told the packed court that the petitioners failed to substantiate their allegations.

"This petition has been plagued by want of evidence in proof of virtually all the allegations contained therein," he said. "Even if I were to accept all the excluded evidence provided by the petitioner, which evidence relates to only four states of the federation, the petitioner would still have been unable to establish his petition. Accordingly, the petition is hereby dismissed."

Despite the ruling, the legal battle may drag on for months as the losing parties are likely to appeal to the Supreme Court for final determination.

International election observers described the 2007 general elections as not credible. Election tribunals have removed about 50 elected officials, including seven state governors and the senate president.

Dozens more disputed races are pending, questioning the legitimacy of the elections as a whole.

Armed security guards were deployed in most parts of Abuja before the verdict, following police reports alleging plans by the opposition to cause mayhem.