Nigeria president Goodluck Jonathan to visit abducted girls' town

ABUJA (AFP) - Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan will visit a northeastern town where more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Islamic militants, with international criticism mounting of his response to the crisis.

A senior government official told AFP that the head of state would be in remote Chibok in Borno state on Friday before flying to Paris for a regional security summit to discuss the Boko Haram threat.

Jonathan and his government have been widely criticised for their slow response to the kidnapping on April 14, which saw 276 girls abducted by militants. A total of 223 are still missing.

But they were forced to act in the face of a social media campaign and street protests that won global support and attracted the attention of foreign powers, who have now sent specialist teams to help in the rescue effort.

In the United States, which has sent drones and surveillance aircraft, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said Nigeria had been "tragically and unacceptably slow" to tackle the crisis.

"I have called on President (Goodluck) Jonathan to demonstrate the leadership his nation is demanding," Democratic senator Robert Menendez said.

Department of Defence official Alice Friend said Nigeria, which has previously resisted outside help to put down the brutal five-year insurgency, could be "an extremely challenging partner to work with".

"In the face of this sophisticated threat, Nigeria's security forces have been slow to adapt with new strategies and new tactics," she added.

Others raised the Nigerian military's human rights record after well-documented claims of abuses carried out by soldiers, including arbitrary detention and summary execution of civilians.

A state of emergency was imposed in three northeastern states worst affected by the violence on May 14 last year.

Special powers were extended for a further six months in November.

Jonathan requested the extension on Tuesday, calling the security situation in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa "daunting" and expressing concern for mounting civilian loss of life.

More than 2,000 have been killed this year alone, most of them civilians, in increasing violence across Muslim-majority northern Nigeria that has seen churches, schools and entire villages attacked.

After quizzing security and military commanders behind closed doors, parliamentary spokesman Zakari Mohammed told reporters that the lower House of Representatives decided to vote unanimously for an extension.