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Nigerian separatists hijack ship, demand release of leader

Nigerian separatists have hijacked a merchant ship and threatened to blow it up with its foreign crew if authorities do not release a detained leader agitating for a breakaway state of Biafra.

Nigerian defence spokesman Major General Rabe Abubakar said the hijacking occurred on Friday. Other officers say the navy is in pursuit.

There are indications the separatists in the south-east are working with some Niger Delta oil militants in southern Nigeria, escalating conflict in a country already burdened by a deadly north-eastern uprising by Boko Haram.

Secret police detained Biafran separatist Nnamdi Kanu on October 17, accusing him of terrorism. His cause sparked a 1960s civil war that killed a million people.

The hijackers have given the government 31 days to free Kanu or say they will blow up the ship along with its crew.

The ultimatum was given at the weekend by a militant identified by the name of General Ben. Ben is not a separatist but "some Niger Delta militants have shown interest in working with us", said Uchena Madu, a leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of a Sovereign State of Biafra.

Niger Delta oil militants have been blamed for recent bombings of oil pipelines in the oil-rich south.

Nigeria, Africa's biggest economy and oil producer, is also battered by slashed petroleum prices.

Secret police on Oct. 17 detained Nnamdi Kanu, director of banned Radio Biafra, and since have accused him of terrorism, sparking protests in which police are accused of killing several demonstrators.

Nigeria's Igbo people prosecuted a civil war to create a separate state of Biafra. Many Igbos claim they still suffer discrimination.

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