June 21, 2007

Nigeria gripped by general strike

LAGOS : Police used tear gas on strikers manning a barricade Thursday in Nigeria's economic capital Lagos as the second day of a general strike brought parts of Africa's largest oil producer to a standstill.

With oil production and exports so far unaffected, unions called on their members to set up "compliance squads" to ensure the strike achieved its aim of paralyzing the economy, after negotiations with the government broke down.

The police used tear gas at a barricade on the northern outskirts of Lagos, dispersing a mixture of union officials, students, residents and local thugs to clear a road, an AFP reporter said.

"We are barricading the road to enforce compliance with the strike," Idris Aloma of the National Union of Road Transport Workers said earlier.

"Some can not be fighting for the good of all while others would be going to work and about their normal business as if everything was okay," he told AFP.

He said barricades would be extended to all the major junctions in Lagos. "There won't be movement until the strike is over."

However none of the major oil companies operating in the world's sixth largest exporter of crude oil has reported any disruption to production or exports.

"There is no effect that I can confirm, not yet anyway," Precious Okolobo, a spokesman for the biggest operator Royal Dutch Shell said.

Union leaders have vowed to press ahead with their action until the government of President Umaru Yar'Adua, who was only sworn in late last month, reverses a decision to hike petrol prices by 15 percent.

"We are pressing forward with the strike", Owei Lakemfa, spokesman for the umbrella Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) told AFP, amid signs early Thursday the shut-down way having an effect.

Fuel soared to three or four times its normal price on the black market, meaning higher public transportation costs.

Banks, schools, petrol stations and businesses were closed in many parts of the country.

Lagos' main port Apapa was still open but only just ticking over as Nigerian Port Authority workers and customs staff followed the strike.

The majority of domestic flights have been cancelled or disrupted, airlines and travellers said.

International flights were obliged to make a refuelling stop elsewhere in the region: KLM in Accra, Iberia in Niamey and British Airways in Palma de Mallorca.

Neither the NLC or the white-collar Trade Union Congress (TUC) said they were expecting to hold further talks with the government.

Read more on the source at: Channel NewsAsia

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