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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL/DOW JONES NEWSWIRES: Nigeria Court Rejects Govt Bid To Halt Strike (



Posted October 14, 2004


ABUJA, Nigeria (AP)--A Nigerian high court judge on Wednesday rejected a government bid to order unions to halt a nationwide strike against rising fuel prices, paving the way for the work stoppage in Africa's biggest crude producer to continue at least one more day, a lawyer said.


A court in the capital, Abuja, struck down a request by government lawyers that would have required union leaders to end the four-day nationwide strike, which began Monday and has the support of the country's main oil workers' union.


"The court has not stopped the strike," said Femi Falana, a lawyer for the Nigeria Labor Congress. "And that is a good development."


Remi Oyo, spokeswoman for Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, declined comment on the case.


Union leaders are demanding the government reverse a recent 23% fuel price hike. Nigerian fuel prices have been steadily rising since the market was deregulated last year.


As part of a general strike, Nigeria's main oil workers' union has threatened to shut down production, increasing concerns about global supply. Work stoppages have not affected exports so far, but market jitters have helped push world oil prices to record levels.


The president of Nigeria's largest oil workers' union, NUPENG, said Wednesday its members were manning key positions for the time being but vowed to turn off the spigots if the government used heavy-handed tactics to end the protest.


"If there are arrests, we will change our strategy ... We can move to stop operations 100 percent," Peter Akpatason told The Associated Press.


While workers were still manning oil export terminals and crude was still flowing, NUPENG was not allowing fresh crews to replace those now at work, said Akpatason.


"We're still allowing critical aspects of production and export operations to go on," he added.


Nigeria's leading trade union, the Nigeria Labor Congress, has threatened to extend the strike. It was supposed to last four days and resume again in two weeks if the government fails to bring fuel prices back down.


The strike shut business in Lagos and other major cities but has not disrupted the 2.5 million barrels of oil which the country exports daily. At least two people have been killed in clashes between police and pro-union protesters, and dozens have been arrested. Hospitals in some cities have also been closed by the strike.


In the northern opposition bastion of Kano, work stoppages included public hospitals.


At the city's Aminu Kanu Teaching Hospital, six crying women mourned over the covered corpse of 50-year-old Iya Monsurat, who died after hospital workers began their strike and left the patient unattended. Monsurat had checked in three days earlier with a high fever.


"As soon as the strike started there was nobody to attend to her. She died this morning," said Monsurat's niece, Ramat Adepoju.


"It is a pity there is nothing we can do" to treat people, said hospital union official Harisu Manir, insisting that "our strike is total."


"The strike is going on and it's quite effective across the country," said Owei Lakemfa, spokesman for the Nigeria Labor Congress. "We have told the police that if the arrests and harassment continue, we'll have to extend the strike beyond tomorrow."


The union's leader, Adams Oshiomhole, later suggested arrests of union supporters were on the wane.


"If the arrests abate as seems to be the case, and there's no renewed aggression or brutality or arrests by police, then we can stick" to the plan to end the strike Thursday, Oshiomhole said.


Oil giant Royal Dutch/Shell (RD SC) said Wednesday it had cut production slightly by 13,000 barrels a day after saboteurs cut through a major pipeline in the oil-rich Niger Delta with a hacksaw and set it on fire.


The cutback will last a few days while repairs are made and was not expected to affect exports, Shell said.


Although most businesses in major cities were shut by the strike Wednesday, taxis were running and many private businesses were still open in the capital, Abuja.


Union supporters seeking to enforce the strike forcibly shut down a gas station in the Okoko district of Lagos on Wednesday, smashing fuel dispensers and motorists' windshields. On city streets there was slightly more traffic, but nothing approaching the usual gridlock.


Crude for November delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange reached a all-time new high of $54.45 Tuesday, fueled by continuing worries over supply in Nigeria and reduced output in the hurricane-hobbled Gulf of Mexico.


A nation of over 130 million, Nigeria is the world's seventh-largest oil exporter and the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports.

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