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Nigeria strike called off

LAGOS, Nigeria -- A general strike protesting against Nigerian fuel price rises has been called off, union officials have said.

The action had paralysed much of the country on the Wednesday, the first day, but had showed signs of faltering on Thursday

Union official Abiodun Aremu told Reuters: "The Central Working Committee has just resolved to suspend the strike as a mark of respect for the court order which declared the strike illegal."

He was speaking after a leadership meeting of the umbrella Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) which called the strike..

NLC president Adams Oshiomhole, was rearrested on Thursday, a day after he was freed on bail after being charged with organising an illegal strike, union officials said earlier.

He had insisted before his arrest that the strike protesting against an 18 percent rise in the price of petrol would continue. "We will not be deterred by the arrests," he told Reuters.

NLC Secretary-General John Odah told Reuters that 20 other NLC leaders were also seized in the northern city of Kaduna.

There was no immediate confirmation from police.

Leaders of the NLC, which launched a paralysing general strike on Wednesday over petrol price increases, called the strategy meeting as the action showed signs of weakening.

"Arresting NLC leaders will not resolve the strike because that does not address the issues involved," Odah told Reuters. "It will make things that much more difficult."

Oshiomhole and 10 other unionists were arrested on Wednesday after police used teargas to disperse picket lines in the capital Abuja that were blocking civil servants from their offices.

Fuel shortfall

The protest has paralysed Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, and other cities.

The action forced markets, fuel stations and banks -- which unions had warned should close or "give out free cash" -- to close and lock their doors.

In Lagos, the commercial capital, mobs of young men chanted and waved palm fronds as they marched through otherwise abandoned streets, breaking the windows of a few buses and taxis.

Other youths blockaded roads with piles of burning tyres, as clusters of stranded commuters looked on.

Nigerians, who consider cheap petrol their birthright as members of OPEC's sixth largest crude oil exporter, are protesting against an 18 percent rise in the price.

The price increase from January 1 is central to President Olusegun Obasanjo's plan to deregulate fuel marketing and end the subsidies.

Police also arrested 16 NLC leaders in the southeastern oil city of Port Harcourt on Wednesday. They were accused of assaulting people who tried to open for business.

"They were going about with horse whips forcing people to shut their shops and offices," River State Police Command spokesman Uche Chukwuma told Reuters.

Another eight NLC members were arrested in Abeokuta in the southwest, state radio reported.

Demand for petrol is expected to exceed 30 million litres a day in 2002, while the country's rusty refineries are producing a maximum of 16 million litres, government figures show.

Labour leaders have accused Obasanjo of giving in to pressure from Western creditors demanding an end to subsidies before the West African nation gets relief on its foreign debt of about $30 billion.

During the last strike over petrol prices which lasted five days in June 2000, gangs of youths barricaded Lagos streets, turning back taxis, buses and commuters who tried to venture into the main business districts.

The government has changed its tactics from June 2000, which ended with the cancellation of its announced 50 percent price hike.


• Outlawed strike paralyses Nigeria
January 16, 2002
• Nigeria counts costs of riots
January 8, 2002

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