Nigeria U-turn on kidnapped schoolgirl rallies

In this photo taken from video by Nigeria's Boko Haram group released on Monday 12 May 2014 shows the alleged missing girls abducted from the north-eastern town of Chibok Image copyright AP
Image caption The schoolgirls are believed to be held in a remote part of Borno state

Nigerian police say peaceful rallies to demand the release of more than 200 schoolgirls seized by Islamist militants will be allowed, after earlier banning them.

But campaigners were warned to exercise caution during protests.

Abuja police commissioner Joseph Mbu said the rallies were "now posing a serious security threat".

Nigeria has seen almost daily rallies calling for the government to take firmer action to rescue the girls.

Boko Haram militants snatched the girls from the remote Chibok village near the Cameroon border on 14 April.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The #ReleaseOurGirls group was set up by the government

'Apply caution'

The government earlier banned public protests across Nigeria after scuffles broke out last week between demonstrators organised under the #BringBackOurGirls and a new government-sponsored group called #ReleaseOurGirls.

Mr Mbu said that public protests had "degenerated" and were now a security threat.

"Protests on the Chibok Girls is hereby banned with immediate effect," he said in a statement on Monday.

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Media captionPresidential advisor Doyin Okupe says Nigeria will rescue the schoolgirls

But a day later, another police statement denied issuing any protest banning order, insisting that they had only released an "advisory notice".

It said that there was a risk of the protest rallies being attacked by "criminal elements having links with insurgents".

Those wanting to attend such gatherings should "seek proper advice and guidance from the police" in order to "avoid any unpleasant circumstances", the statement said.

The about-turn came as the #BringBackOurGirls groups sought a court order against the ban.

Nigeria's government has been facing growing pressure both at home and abroad to do more to tackle the group and bring about the girls' release.

A deal for the release of some of the abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria was close to being secured when the Nigerian government called it off late last month, the BBC has learned.

Thousands of people have died since Boko Haram began a violent campaign against the Nigerian government in 2009 and in the subsequent security crackdown.

Who are Boko Haram?

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has threatened to treat the girls as slaves
  • Founded in 2002
  • Initially focused on opposing Western education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009 to create Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria - also attacked police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja
  • Some three million people affected
  • Declared terrorist group by US in 2013

Who are Boko Haram?

Profile: Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau

Why Nigeria has not defeated Boko Haram

The girls, who were mainly Christian, were taken from their school in Chibok, in north-eastern Borno state and are thought to be held in a remote forested area of the state, close to the border with Chad and Cameroon.

Last month, Boko Haram released a video of some of the girls. The footage was interspersed with militants explaining that the girls had "converted" to Islam.

The UK, the US, China and France are among the countries to have sent teams of experts and equipment to help to locate them.

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