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AP Worldstream: Hospitals, banks shut in Lagos as nationwide strike continues: 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. (ShellNews.net)

 

DULUE MBACHU

Oct 14, 2004

 

Hospitals, banks and ports remained closed for a fourth day in Nigeria's main city of Lagos on Thursday, as unions pushed ahead with a nationwide general strike over rising domestic fuel prices which has raised fears over the country's oil exports.

 

The strike started Monday and was initially due to last four days, resuming again in a fortnight's time if gasoline prices are not reduced.

 

Although unions have warned the strike's first round could continue beyond Thursday if key demands are not met, union spokesman Owei Lakemfa stepped back from such threats.

 

"This is day four and the final day of our strike," said Lakemfa of the Nigeria Labor Congress, which is spearheading the strike. "Nigerians know that the alternative to what they are doing is enslavement.

 

Nigeria Labor Congress leader Adams Oshiomhole had earlier warned that the strike's first phase would be extended if police continued making arrests after detaining dozens at the start of the strike, or if a 33-man committee on the petroleum sector failed to discuss reducing fuel prices.

 

However, on Thursday Lakemfa said an extension of the strike was "not likely."

 

A court in the capital, Abuja, on Wednesday struck down a request by government lawyers that would have required unions to end the strike.

 

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

 

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

 

Nigeria's main oil workers' union has threatened to disrupt supply, but so far the strike has not affected 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.

 

Market jitters over the strike 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," said Peter Akpatason.

 

In Lagos, a city of over 13 million, streets were largely deserted on Thursday. Schools, offices, ports and public hospitals were all shut down.

 

In the Aminu Kanu Teaching Hospital, in the northern opposition bastion of Kano, six crying women mourned over the covered corpse of 50-year-old Iya Monsurat on Wednesday. She 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."

 

Oil giant Royal Dutch/Shell said Wednesday it had cut production slightly by 13,000 barrels per 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, Shell said.

 

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

 

Crude oil for November delivery went as high as US$54.17 per barrel during trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange's after-hours dealing system, up by 53 cents from its final price of US$53.64 in New York on Wednesday.

 

A pipeline explosion in Mexico sparked the price rise, while worries over the Nigerian strike are also helping to keep prices high.

 

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.

 

Associated Press writer Daniel Balint-Kurti in Abuja contributed to this report.


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