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Violence mars Nigerian strikes

Police fire tear gas to break up demonstrations in Nigeria
Police fire tear gas to break up demonstrations in Nigeria

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ABUJA, Nigeria -- Violence-marred strikes over rising fuel prices in Nigeria entered a fourth day Thursday after talks between union leaders and government officials ended without agreement.

Strikers have vowed to extend the work stoppages even as police threatened to intensify their crackdown on protesters.

"The strike continues,'' said Adams Oshiomhole, the head of Nigeria Lab our Congress (NLC) that initiated the walkout, which has paralyzed businesses and resulted in violent demonstrations.

"If we've been talking for three days now and no positive point has been made, I wonder what progress we're going to make tomorrow [Thursday],'' he told Reuters.

NLC is warning that it will widen the disruptions, which began Monday in protest over higher fuel prices, if no progress is made in negotiations by Sunday.

Work stoppages have hit the African country's seaports, as well as closed banks, shops and petrol stations. Manufacturing plants and many of Nigeria's biggest corporations have also been affected by the strike.

NLC said it would move to shut down the oil and gas industry -- the mainstay of the country's economy -- to back its demands. Nigeria, which ships more than two million barrels of oil a day, is the world's fifth largest exporter of crude.

Union leaders want the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo to reverse a June 20 decision to end subsidies on retail fuel products and hiked petrol prices by more than 50 percent.

Police have been battling with demonstrators since NLC initiated the nation-wide strike. At least eight people have died and scores of others have been injured.

On Wednesday, scores were injured after soldiers were called in to help police disperse demonstrators who had gathered in a market in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, news agencies reported.

Soldiers arrived at the Wuse market in armored vehicles as members of the NLC were attempting to enforce a stay-at-home order on support of the strike.

The troops fired live rounds and tear gas above the heads of protesters, causing a stampede through the streets of Abuja.

"There is a big stampede. Market women are running in all directions and many people are wounded," Reuters reporter Felix Onuah said from the scene Wednesday.

Police officials warned they will clamp down on any further public disturbances.

"Any person or groups of persons who threatens, obstructs, intimidates or molests anybody going about his or her lawful duty ... shall be arrested and dealt with,'' National police chief Tafa Balogun said in a special broadcast, Reuters reported.

He said police will "provide adequate security in all offices, banks, airports, seaports, markets and filling stations.''

The violent demonstrations have cast a shadow over next week's visit to Nigeria by U.S. President George W. Bush as part of his tour of Africa.

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