Nigerian president ends silence

Nigerian President Yardua. Jacob Zuma is inaugurated as President of South Africa at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Hundreds of dignitaries attended the event which cost R75 million.

Picture: JAMES OATWAY 2009/05/09.

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Nigerian President Yardua. Jacob Zuma is inaugurated as President of South Africa at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Hundreds of dignitaries attended the event which cost R75 million. Picture: JAMES OATWAY 2009/05/09. ------ Projects Pictures

ABUJA - Nigeria's president made his first public comment yesterday since being hospitalised more than seven weeks ago in Saudi Arabia for a heart condition.

ABUJA - Nigeria's president made his first public comment yesterday since being hospitalised more than seven weeks ago in Saudi Arabia for a heart condition.

He said he was recovering and hoped to return home soon.

Doubts over President Umaru Yar'Adua's health and the fact he kept full powers despite his silence had brought growing unease in the country of 140million, slowed official business and put at risk a truce in the oil-producing Niger Delta.

The comments answer local media reports suggesting the president's condition had worsened and could buy more time to end uncertainty threatening the worst political crisis since army rule ended more than a decade ago.

But religious leaders and opposition politicians angry at Yar'Adua's long absence without handing over power to his vice president went ahead with a protest rally in Abuja.

"At the moment I'm undergoing treatment, and I'm getting better. I hope that very soon there will be tremendous progress, which will allow me to get back home," he told BBC radio by phone.

"I wish, at this stage, to thank all Nigerians for their prayers for my good health, and for their prayers for the nation," said Yar'Adua, 58, who sounded weak and gave no clear indication when he might return.

Yar'Adua's refusal to transfer powers to vice president Goodluck Jonathan has prompted a lawsuit from the Nigerian Bar Association, which says the president is violating the constitution.

Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka led a rally of religious leaders and opposition politicians to parliament to demand a resolution requiring a briefing on Yar'Adua's health or sanctions for breaching the constitution.

"We are told nothing has stopped, how can people tell us such a lie?" Soyinka told protesters." - Reuters

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