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Nigerian Opposition Rejects Results of Presidential Elections

Opposition parties in Nigeria are rejecting the results of Saturday's presidential election, in which President Olusegun Obasanjo won victory with 62 percent of the vote. Opposition leaders are calling for the president to step down and call new elections. But it does not look at all likely that he will

President Obasanjo continues to act, in public at least, as if there is no controversy surrounding the election. At election headquarters, he was presented with a certificate of the poll results, and he thanked the electoral commission and his party leaders for their hard work. He said the election was a milestone in Nigeria's democratic evolution.

"There is no doubt in my own mind, and I believe in the mind of many, many Nigerians, that this is a significant movement forward in the history of elections in this country," he said.

But outside election headquarters, criticism from the opposition continues to mount. At a nearby hotel, the man who placed second in the presidential race was calling for a new round of elections.

Opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari said he had hoped this election would "break the jinx" that since independence has blocked the transition from one elected government to another.

He says the jinx has not been broken. Mr. Buhari called the presidential election the organized rape of democracy. "This election is the most fraudulent Nigeria has had since independence," said Muhammadu Buhari.

Those are ominous words coming from the man who 20 years ago led a military coup that overthrew the last civilian government to hold elections in Nigeria. The 1983 vote was widely seen as flawed, and the coup came just a few months later. Mr. Buhari may have been referring to that election when he issued this warning to the ruling party about the alleged rigging, "Such shortcuts to achieving power have never lasted in Nigeria," he said.

Mr. Buhari was surrounded by leaders of most of the other 28 opposition parties. They issued an ultimatum to Mr. Obasanjo - step down by May 29. They called for new elections, held by a new electoral commission under a transitional government.

He appeared to reject the idea of challenging the poll results in the special electoral tribunal set up for that purpose under Nigeria's electoral law.

One opposition leader, Olagbade Agoro, said Mr. Obasanjo could face an uprising if he refuses to step down. "If General Olusegun Obasanjo fails to heed this humble advice being dished out to him, in the interest of the peace of the nation, well, the consequences may be [the] masses revolt," he said.

Mr. Agoro said he and the other opposition leaders abhor violence. But he accused Mr. Obasanjo's government of violence toward the people, and he said if they respond with violence, it will be the fault of the ruling party.

President Obasanjo has urged his rivals to be good sportsmen and take their defeat with gallantry and good-naturedness.

The opposition leaders are basing much of their criticism of the poll on reports by international election observers. The European Union said the election was marred by serious irregularities and fraud. EU observers said in several parts of the country, minimum standards for democratic elections were not met.

Most of the observers have singled out the elections in the southeast Niger Delta region as particularly flawed. One American observer said what happened in Rivers State was hardly an election.

But with the exception of the European Union, the other international observers generally gave the election passing marks outside the Niger Delta region. The Commonwealth said in most of the country, the poll was peaceful, orderly and credible.

Without exception, the international observers urged the parties who feel they have been the victims of election fraud to challenge the results legally and peacefully, through the electoral tribunal.