Kerry in Nigeria to warn against postelection violence

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Kerry in Nigeria to warn against postelection violence
Nigeria's President, Goodluck Jonathan, right, walks with U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, on his arrival at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. In a rare high-level visit to Africa's most populous country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Nigeria's leading presidential candidates to refrain from fomenting violence after next month's vote, and he condemned savage attacks by Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)
Nigeria's former military ruler and opposition party All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari meets with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry at the U.S. consulate house in Lagos, Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. In a rare high-level visit to Africa's most populous country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Nigeria's leading presidential candidates to refrain from fomenting violence after next month's vote, and he condemned savage attacks by Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)
U.S Secretary of State, John Kerry, speaks during a news conference after a meeting with members of the opposition party All Progressives Congress (APC) at the U.S consulate house in Lagos Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. In a rare high-level visit to Africa's most populous country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Nigeria's leading presidential candidates to refrain from fomenting violence after next month's vote, and he condemned savage attacks by Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)
U.S Secretary of State, John Kerry, speaks during a news conference after a meeting with members of the opposition party All Progressives Congress (APC) at the U.S consulate house in Lagos Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. In a rare high-level visit to Africa's most populous country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Nigeria's leading presidential candidates to refrain from fomenting violence after next month's vote, and he condemned savage attacks by Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)
U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria James Entwistle, left, and Secretary of State John Kerry, 2nd left, sit beside Nigeria's former military ruler and opposition party All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari (in white) at the U.S. consulate house in Lagos Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. In a rare high-level visit to Africa's most populous country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Nigeria's leading presidential candidates to refrain from fomenting violence after next month's vote, and he condemned savage attacks by Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)
U.S Secretary of State John Kerry, left, sits beside Nigeria's former military ruler and opposition party All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari at the U.S. consulate house in Lagos Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. In a rare high-level visit to Africa's most populous country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Nigeria's leading presidential candidates to refrain from fomenting violence after next month's vote, and he condemned savage attacks by Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the media after visiting with Nigerian political leaders to have talks on the Nigeria elections to take place next month in Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to encourage the main candidates in Nigeria's upcoming presidential vote to accept the results without the threat of postelection violence. Kerry met first with President Goodluck Jonathan and planned to talk with former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, the loser in the 2011 race, during his brief visit Sunday to Africa's most populous country. (AP Photo)
Nigeria's President, Goodluck Jonathan, right, walks with U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, on his arrival at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. In a rare high-level visit to Africa's most populous country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Nigeria's leading presidential candidates to refrain from fomenting violence after next month's vote, and he condemned savage attacks by Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)
Nigeria's President, Goodluck Jonathan, 2nd right, walks with U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, 2nd left, on his arrival at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. In a rare high-level visit to Africa's most populous country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Nigeria's leading presidential candidates to refrain from fomenting violence after next month's vote, and he condemned savage attacks by Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)
Nigeria's President, Goodluck Jonathan, right, speaks with U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. In a rare high-level visit to Africa's most populous country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Nigeria's leading presidential candidates to refrain from fomenting violence after next month's vote, and he condemned savage attacks by Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)
U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria James Entwistle, centre left walks with US Secretary of State John Kerry, centre and unidentified Nigerian government officials upon Kerry's arrival, in Lagos, Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's plan to stop in Nigeria for meetings with the two leading candidates in the upcoming presidential election signals deep U.S. concerns about pos telection violence in a country already devastated by an al-Qaida-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)
Nigeria's President, Goodluck Jonathan, 2nd left, introduces government officials to U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, left, at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. In a rare high-level visit to Africa's most populous country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Nigeria's leading presidential candidates to refrain from fomenting violence after next month's vote, and he condemned savage attacks by Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)
U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria James Entwistle, left, US Secretary of State John Kerry, centre, sit beside Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan, at the State House, in Lagos, Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's plan to stop in Nigeria for meetings with the two leading candidates in the upcoming presidential election signals deep U.S. concerns about pos telection violence in a country already devastated by an al-Qaida-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)
Nigeria's President, Goodluck Jonathan, right, speaks with U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. In a rare high-level visit to Africa's most populous country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Nigeria's leading presidential candidates to refrain from fomenting violence after next month's vote, and he condemned savage attacks by Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)
U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, walks down the steps of the aircraft upon arriving at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. In a rare high-level visit to Africa's most populous country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Nigeria's leading presidential candidates to refrain from fomenting violence after next month's vote, and he condemned savage attacks by Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked insurgency. (AP Photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Pool)
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LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- In a rare high-level visit to Africa's most populous country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Nigeria's leading presidential candidates to refrain from fomenting violence after next month's vote, and he condemned savage attacks by Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked insurgency.

On a day when Nigerian troops battled extremists who attacked Maiduguri, the biggest city in the northeast, Kerry played down reports that the U.S. had grown frustrated with Nigeria's military commitment to fighting the radical Islamist movement.

Kerry said the U.S. was sharing intelligence with Nigeria and stood ready to do more if the Feb. 14 election proceeded in a nonviolent, democratic fashion.

"The United States is deeply engaged with Nigeria," he said. "Does it always work as well as we would like or as well as the Nigerians would like? The answer is no."

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan said he reaffirmed a strong commitment to working with the United States "to put an end to global terrorism and particularly Boko Haram."

"I firmly believe that enhancing and expanding various channels of cooperation between our two countries, in the context of growing international coordination, are of the utmost importance," Jonathan said in a statement following the meeting. "I discussed a number of ideas with Secretary Kerry to move such cooperation forward."

Kerry was in the country's commercial capital, Lagos, about 1,000 miles southwest from the skirmishes that killed more than 200 combatants.

Independent analysts have condemned the government's tactics against Boko Haram, arguing that they inspire support for a movement driven by joblessness, alienation, ethnic divisions and poor governance.

Speaking at the U.S. consulate's residence overlooking the Gulf of Guinea, Kerry told reporters that America and others will closely watch the election in this country of 170 million people.

"This will be the largest democratic election on the continent," Kerry said. "Given the stakes, it's absolutely critical that these elections be conducted peacefully - that they are credible, transparent and accountable."

Kerry spoke after meeting in separate locations with both leading candidates, President Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, the former military dictator whom Jonathan defeated in 2011. More than 800 people were killed in northern protests after Buhari, a Muslim northerner, lost to Jonathan, a Christian from the south.

Both candidates pledged to tamp down on violence, Kerry said, but the secretary also issued a warning: Anyone who incites postelection mayhem will be ineligible to enter the United States.

On terrorism, Kerry said he was concerned about the Islamic State group making inroads in Africa, but said he saw no direct link between those Syria- and Iraq-based militants and Boko Haram.

In a report last week, the Virginia-based Center for Naval Analyses, a federally funded research corporation, called Boko Haram a locally focused insurgency largely fueled by bad government.

"The conflict is being sustained by masses of unemployed youth who are susceptible to Boko Haram recruitment, an alienated and frightened northern population that refuses to cooperate with state security forces, and a governance vacuum that has allowed the emergence of militant sanctuaries in the northeast," the report said.

"The conflict is also being perpetuated by the Nigerian government, which has employed a heavy-handed, overwhelmingly (military) approach to dealing with the group and has paid little attention to the underlying contextual realities and root causes of the conflict," the report said. That view comports with the assessment of the U.S. intelligence agencies.

In December, Nigeria canceled the last stage of U.S. training of a Nigerian army battalion, a reflection of strained counterterrorism relations between the two governments.

In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 270 schoolgirls from the northern town of Chibok, prompting international condemnation and a campaign to "Bring Back Our Girls." Most of the girls, however, have not been rescued.

Boko Haram has denounced democracy and is fighting to impose its strict version of Shariah law.

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