WARRI, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian separatists said police killed eight people during renewed violent protests Monday demanding an independent Biafran state in southeastern Nigeria and the release of a detained leader. Police deny the allegation from leaders of a cause that sparked a civil war in the 1960s in which a million people died.
Police shot protesters in southeastern Aba city, after protests erupted in cities in six southern states, Uchenna Madu, leader of the Movement for the Actualization of the State of Biafra, told The Associated Press.
But Abia state police spokesman Ezekiel Onyeke said no one was killed and police fired only tear gas and smoke grenades to disperse protesters after some lobbed petrol bombs at security forces. It was not possible to verify the contradictory claims.
Onyeke said police arrested 26 people for possessing weapons including machetes, axes and clubs.
Fourteen other protesters and two police officers have been killed and about 200 people detained across the country since the demonstrations started three months ago, according to the separatists and police. They began after intelligence agents detained the director of banned Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, on Oct. 17. He was initially accused of criminal conspiracy and hate speech but the charges were escalated to terrorism and financing terrorism.
A Federal High Court ordered Kanu's unconditional release on Dec. 17 but President Muhammadu Buhari said two weeks ago that his government would not release Kanu.
Monday's protests come six days after the anniversary of the surrender in 1970 of the breakaway state of Biafra following a 32-month-old civil war in which the casualties were mostly Biafrans who starved to death because the military blocked supply routes. Buhari, a former military dictator in the 1980s, was a brigade major who commanded troops in Biafra during the war in which soldiers were accused of mass atrocities.