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Nigeria Urges Sao Tome and Principe Coup Leaders to Return Power to Civilians - 2003-07-17

Nigeria is trying to convince the leaders of the military coup in neighboring Sao Tome and Principe to return power to civilians. The two countries share ownership of rich oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea.

Rebel soldiers in Sao Tome and Principe say Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo spoke with their leader, Major Fernando Pereira, Thursday about arranging for the visit of a Nigerian envoy.

The coup took place early Wednesday as Sao Tome President Fradique de Menezes was in Nigeria attending an economic summit.

Mr. Obasanjo addressed the summit later on Wednesday and added his voice to mounting international condemnation of the coup.

"May I express our heartfelt support for the president of Sao Tome and Principe who is here with us." he said. "In his absence some members of the armed forces attempted to seize power. We condemn such act in the strongest term possible and we advise the military adventurers to call off this dangerous action and hand over power to the elected president."

Nigeria has also warned the coup leaders against harming any of its citizens. In the capital Sao Tome, most civilians returned to normal activities on Thursday.

The rebellious soldiers have also given assurances they will not harm senior government officials. They say they are holding the officials in an air conditioned room.

Machine gun wielding mutineers met no resistance Wednesday when they took over all key government buildings as well as the airport.

The mutineers say they acted to save the tiny island state from social and economic decline. They accused the current elected leadership of being elitist and corrupt.

Sao Tome and Principe is one of the world's poorest countries, but studies suggest it may have vast oil deposits in its territorial waters.

Many foreign oil companies have already expressed interest in developing several oil blocks jointly owned by Sao Tome and Nigeria. The start of international bidding has sharpened political rivalries.

Sao Tome's elected government has insisted it needs international help to protect its oil interests. It has even invited the United States to set up a naval base on the islands.