Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Queen visits a fake market in Nigeria

REUTERS , KARU, NIGERIA

The townsfolk of Karu in central Nigeria watched the British queen on a giant television screen in their main square on Thursday, as she toured a mock-up market under heavy guard in a nearby compound.

Security fears surrounding Queen Elizabeth's first state visit to Nigeria since its independence were so great that the monarch was taken to the staged arena, purpose-built by the BBC for a new World Service radio soap opera, instead of the real Karu market.

"I believe if she wanted to visit the market she should have gone to the actual market," said Patrick Chenge, 40, who watched the screening with three young children. "Maybe there was a bit of stage managing involved."

Wearing a pink dress suit, pink hat and white gloves, Queen Elizabeth showed particular interest in a food stall displaying smoked fish and nuts, and watched a short sketch about living with AIDS before being whisked out of the compound in a convoy of sport-utility vehicles.

"Obviously security was a major factor," said a British diplomat.

A British spokeswoman said that some of the people the Queen met during her 20-minute tour were real market traders, while others were BBC actors brought in for the launch of the three-year radio soap project.

The set was created because radio producers prefer the "authentic" sound provided by an outdoor set to studio sound, even though the audience will never see the "market."

The market tour was the Queen's main opportunity to meet "ordinary Nigerians" on her four-day state visit, when she is also due to open a Commonwealth leaders' summit.

People watching the giant screen in Karu said the visit, the Queen's first since Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960, had already brought some blessings to the poverty-stricken town.

Its main road was recently resurfaced with smooth earth, and a faulty electricity supply has become more reliable in the past few weeks, they said.

Angela Omeje, a 22-year-old street trader, said she hoped it would bring more improvements to the community.

"Do you have water? Do you have electric light? Do you have water? We are lacking many things and our children are suffering from bad facilities in the schools," she said, pushing a plastic wheel-barrow containing sweet yam snacks.

"Many people are running with barrows and we are lacking jobs," she added before disappearing into the crowd of hundreds.

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