British dignitaries stayed away from Nigeria fete: spokesman

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British dignitaries due to attend celebrations in Nigeria marking 50 years of independence stayed away from the main event, which was marred by two nearby car bomb blasts, a spokesman said Saturday.

The confirmation that the Duke of Gloucester and the rest of the British delegation did not attend came after a Nigerian newspaper reported that British intelligence warned Nigerian officials of the possibility of an attack.

At least 12 people were killed after two car bombs went off about a 10-minute walk away from Eagle Square, where the main celebrations occurred on Friday.

"The duke didn't attend the parade at Eagle Square," said British High Commission spokesman David Lloyd-Davies. "The rest of his programme is going on as planned."

He added that those who were to accompany him also did not attend. The duke was to represent Queen Elizabeth II at the events.

Lloyd-Davies said he could not comment on the reason why they did not attend or on the report in Nigerian newspaper ThisDay.

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown had also been advertised to appear at an event in Abuja being sponsored by ThisDay. The event was canceled following the bomb attacks.

Lloyd-Davies could not comment on whether Brown had canceled plans to travel to Abuja, saying it was a private trip.

The British Foreign Office refused to comment on whether intelligence had been given to Nigeria. Police in Nigeria also could not confirm the report.

ThisDay quoted presidency sources as saying British intelligence received word of the planned attacks and warned the Nigerian government.

MEND, the militant group that has claimed responsibility for the attack, blamed government officials for the deaths, saying they "acted irresponsibly by ignoring our forewarning."

"We hinted to the government security forces and gave them an ample warning of five days in addition to the one hour given today," it said in a statement on Friday.

The group had issued a statement to media outlets an hour ahead of the blasts warning of explosions.

© 2010 AFP

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