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Abuja, Nigeria - Armed police backed by bulldozers tore down illegally built homes and shops in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Friday ahead of a visit by United States President George Bush.
The operation began on Thursday after an order from President Olusegun Obasanjo to clean up the city ahead of his American counterpart's arrival, officials said.
In one residential quarter of the city an AFP reporter saw about 60 buildings, ranging from brick-built structures to makeshift wooden shanties, ploughed down as hundreds of residents looked on in despair.
"They didn't give us any warning," wailed tailor John Emeka, who saved his sewing machine but lost much of his stock when a joint taskforce of police and environmental protection agents pulled down his business.
Nearby a stock of computers lay mangled in the wreckage of an electronic goods store, and the ownwer of a grilled meat stand argued with officers attempting to condemn his barbecue.
The police came armed with assault rifles and tear gas, but there was no violence as the bulldozers rolled in.
A senior local official, Babangida Aliyu, said Obasanjo had personally ordered the destruction on a visit last week to the Federal Capital Territory's lawmakers.
"Obasanjo gave specific instructions when he visited, and we have no qualms in carrying them out," he said.
More than two thousand Nigerian police and intelligence officers have been deployed around Abuja to provide security for Bush's visit, the last stage in a whirlwind five-nation tour of Africa.
The US leader is due in Abuja late on Friday after a stopover in Uganda and is to return to Washington on Saturday.
His trip has so far taken him to Senegal, South Africa and Botswana. - Sapa-AFP