Deadly blasts mar Nigeria independence celebrations
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Two explosions rocked celebrations in Nigeria's capital Friday, killing at least eight people near a parade route where government officials and foreign dignitaries were marking the 50th anniversary of the country's independence.
REUTERS - Eight people were killed and three injured in car bomb explosions that hit Nigeria's capital on Friday near a parade marking the 50th anniversary of independence, police said.
Two explosions, which also destroyed three cars, came an hour after the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Nigeria's biggest rebel militia, issued an email warning saying it had planted several bombs and telling people to evacuate the area.
A Reuters cameraman said security forces and firemen in the capital, Abuja, had been trying to douse a fire in a car after the first explosion when a second blast hit.
"Two car bombs exploded and eight people are confirmed dead," Abuja police spokesman Jimoh Moshood told Reuters.
The lavish celebrations of military bands, troupes of dancing children and air force displays continued as planned.
Given its warning, the finger of blame will rest heavily on MEND, which has been fighting for years for a greater share of oil revenues from the impoverished Niger Delta, home to Africa's biggest oil and gas industry.
Although most of its activities have been focused on the creeks and swamps of the delta, MEND has struck further afield, including at off-shore oil installations and in the heart of Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos.
"Several explosive devices have been successfully planted in and around the venue by our operatives working inside the government security services," the warning email, signed by MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo, said.
"In evacuating the area, keep a safe distance from vehicles and trash bins."
Broadcast television footage showed no interruption to the 50th birthday celebrations.
Shortly after the warning, President Goodluck Jonathan, who faces an election early next year, arrived in an armoured limousine dressed in his traditional black fedora hat and dark suit, before inspecting ranks of soldiers from an open-top jeep.
Jonathan is from the Niger Delta area, and many analysts thought his accession to the presidency earlier this year after the death of president Umaru Yar'Adua would have eased tensions between rebels and central government.
Despite the official pomp, the 50-year landmark has caused considerable introspection among Nigeria's 140 million people, many of whom regard the period since the end of British rule in 1960 as a half-century of broken dreams.
As well as a succession of brutal and economically disastrous military dictatorships and the squandering of billions of dollars in oil revenues, Nigeria suffered a civil war in the late 1960s in which a million people died.
"Leadership has failed the nation again and again and again," said author Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, describing the post-colonial era as a "wasted generation".
"It has been backwards steps -- one step forwards and then ten back."
Despite the gloom, others feel that after 10 years of unbroken civilian rule, Nigeria is on the cusp of a major revival, supported by high oil prices, a flood of foreign investment and gradual liberalisation of its economy.