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UPDATE 3-Nigeria expects to lift Twitter ban by end of year, minister says

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(Adds Twitter no comment, detail)

By Karin Strohecker and Libby George

LONDON/LAGOS, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Nigeria expects to lift its ban on Twitter before the end of the year, Information Minister Lai Mohammed told Reuters on Thursday, adding that the government was awaiting a response on three final requests made of the social media platform.

The ban, announced in June, has hurt Nigerian businesses and drawn widespread condemnation for its deleterious effect on freedom of expression and the ease of doing business in Africa's most populous nation.

Mohammed said the government had reached agreements on seven of 10 requests made to Twitter but was waiting for the company's response on final issues, including setting up a local office, paying tax locally and cooperating with the government to regulate content and harmful tweets.

"We certainly want to put this behind us before the end of the year," Mohammed said.

Twitter declined to comment.

The government suspended Twitter on June 4 after it removed a post from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists.

It was a culmination of months of tension. Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey's posts encouraging donations to anti-police brutality protests last October and Twitter posts from Nnamdi Kanu, a Biafran separatist leader currently on trial in Abuja, infuriated authorities.

Mohammed said Twitter "made their platform the platform of choice for separatists", and was suspended because it threatened national unity.

The ban is just one area of concern for free speech advocates. Nigeria dropped five spots, to 120, in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, which described Nigeria as one of the most dangerous and difficult West Africa countries for journalists.

Last month, Nigeria's broadcasting regulator asked TV stations to curb their reporting of security issues in the country by withholding details of incidents and victims.

Mohammed said concerns over deteriorating freedom of speech were the result of misinformation. He added he was currently in Washington, D.C. meeting with journalists and opinion leaders in an effort to counter such misunderstandings.

While U.S. lawmakers put on hold a proposal to sell almost $1 billion of weapons to Nigeria over concerns about possible human rights abuses by the government, Mohammed said the issue was the purview of the foreign affairs minister. He added that Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States had also led a team to meet some congressional aides to reestablish the channels for communication. (Reporting by Karin Strohecker in London and Libby George in Lagos, additional reporting by Eva Mathews in Bangalore; Editing by Paul Simao and Alex Richardson)