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Possible coup plot probed in Nigeria

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Authorities were investigating Nigerian Army commanders yesterday in connection with "serious security breaches" that some officers have privately characterized as a plot to overthrow President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Obasanjo spokeswoman Remi Oyo declined to say whether the alleged offenses constituted a coup plot, saying there is "no danger whatsoever; this president is firmly in charge."

"It is true that the intelligence community is investigating allegations of what appears to be serious breaches of security on the part of some officers and apparent civilian collaborators," Oyo said. She refused to elaborate. "The truth of the matter is they remain allegations until proven," Oyo said.

Three military officers said privately that army intelligence officials had interrogated 28 midranking officers in connection with an alleged plot to topple Obasanjo, whose 1999 election ended 15 years of military rule in Africa's most populous nation.

The officers were questioned Monday at the nation's military intelligence headquarters in the capital of Abuja, the three officers said. The officers, who included one of the 28 who had been interrogated, spoke on the condition their names not be used.

After the questioning, officials released the suspects -- many of them Hausa-speaking, Muslim army colonels and majors from the north -- but impounded their cellphones, apparently to investigate call records, the men said.

Obasanjo, a southern Christian, has faced stiff opposition from northern Muslims who have long dominated Nigeria's military. Soldiers have staged six military coups and numerous failed attempts since Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in outbreaks of ethnic, religious, and political violence in Africa's most populous nation since Obasanjo won 1999 elections. Obasanjo was reelected last year in a vote opponents said was rigged.

Army chief of staff Lieutenant General Martin Agwai tried to stamp out the spread of what he called "dangerous" coup rumors.

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