ADDIS ABABA – The African Union urged the military in coup-prone Nigeria on Thursday to respect a decision to hand power to the country's deputy leader until the recovery of ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua.
In a statement, African Union commission chairman Jean Ping praised the move to install Goodluck Jonathan as acting head-of-state for demonstrating "respect for the constitution, good governance, democracy and the rule of law".
"In so doing, the government and people of Nigeria have, again, resolved a delicate and sensitive political situation within the constitutional and legal provisions available and without recourse to violence or unconstitutional means," the statement added.
"The chairperson of the commission encourages all the stakeholders in Nigeria, including the military, to continue in their firm support for and practice of constitutionality."
Nigeria's cabinet had initially opposed the idea of the vice president being formally appointed as acting head of state in the absence of Yar'Adua who has been treated in a Saudi Arabia hospital for a heart condition since November.
But ministers rallied round Jonathan on Wednesday, the day after both houses of parliament had voted to hand him the reins of power.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and one of the world's biggest oil exporters, has a long history of coups and mililtary leadership, and only returned to civilian rule a little over a decade ago.
After his installation as acting president, Jonathan commended the security services for "their loyalty and devotion to duty during this trying period".
The debate around the crisis arising from Yar'Adua's absence has brought to the fore the political battle over the delicate power balancing act in Nigeria.
The situation in Nigeria is further complicated by an unwritten rule under which the presidency traditionally switches between the north and the south at every two elections.
Yar'Adua is from the predominantly Muslim north and Jonathan from the mainly Christian south.
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