Source AP ©

Nigerian security forces battle Islamist gunmen

The witnesses say that there are casualties left after the clash between Security forces and gunman blamed for a deadly attack a day earlier on a police station in Northern Nigeria.

Hundreds of soldiers and police surrounded the neighborhood as entire families fled, with parents holding their children close as they rushed down Kano's dusty streets. Departing residents reported numerous dead bodies in the streets, but said they made no firm count in their haste to leave.

Police and military officials said details of the operation were sketchy and they had no immediate comment. Authorities kept journalists back from the battle site and restricted access to the military hospital.

The violence in Kano has added to tension across Africa's most populous nation days before a presidential vote meant to usher in the first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power in a nation whose history since independence in 1960 has been plagued by military coups. The main opposition parties joined forces Wednesday to demand the annulment of the results from April 14 balloting for state governors and legislators they branded "sham elections" and called for a postponement of the presidential vote.

Scores of people have died in election-related violence in recent months, including at least 21 during the April 14 vote. Nigerian media reported scattered protests on Monday as the electoral commission announced huge leads for the governing party in the state elections. Angry young Nigerians torched electoral offices in several states and in one instance, burned an election officer alive.

In Kano, an opposition stronghold of 3 million, youths barricaded streets and burned tires after a delay in results from the state elections. The situation calmed late Monday when it was announced that the opposition gubernatorial candidate had won, only for new violence to break out Tuesday, when gunmen attacked a police station, killing 12 policemen and one civilian, the wife of an officer.

Gunfire broke out again in Kano around sunrise Wednesday near the area where a group of suspected Islamic extremists were holed up after their police station attack.

Residents said they believed the attackers were members of an outlawed, self-styled Islamic extremist movement that has clashed with security forces in recent years.

Gunfire could be heard and witnesses said they saw injured troops being rushed from the scene.

Police on Tuesday announced a ban on political rallies across this nation of 140 million, and said security forces had been given orders to act to put down violence.

Amid the violence and charges of vote-rigging, 18 parties, including those of the main opposition candidates Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Atiku Abubakar, called on Nigerians to "protest in a nonviolent manner" against the state election results. The parties also called for a new electoral commission.

The parties demanded a "level playing field" for all candidates and threatened to boycott Saturday's vote setting up Nigeria's first-ever transfer of power from one civilian leader to another.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment on the demands that threaten to further endanger the drive to cement civilian rule.

Since independence from Britain in 1960, most Nigerian elections were scuttled by military coups or annulments. Current President Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military ruler, was elected in 1999, ending decades of near-constant military rule and coups d'etat that overturned periodic civilian administrations.

Obasanjo's 2003 re-election was marred by violence and accusations of widespread rigging.

Obasanjo was prevented from running again by constitutional term limits. Umaru Yar'Adua, a member of Obasanjo's party, is seen as the front-runner in Saturday's race.

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