Nigeria’s military dictator vowed Sunday to remain in power three more years, but he sought to soften condemnation of the announcement by lifting death sentences for 13 men convicted of plotting a coup.
The extension of military rule was expected, but the commuting of the death sentences was not and it revealed Gen. Sani Abacha’s worries about Nigeria’s international isolation.
In his nationally televised speech, Abacha said the decision was made “in consideration for the earnest pleas of our friends and in the spirit of national reconciliation.”
The United States and Britain had threatened sanctions against Nigeria if the 13 were put to death by firing squad, as ordered by a secret military tribunal in July.
The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment on Abacha’s speech.