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Nigeria Grinds to a Halt as Strike Begins

Most parts of Nigeria are quiet as many schools and banks closed, following the start of a general strike to protest government price hikes on fuel. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports that the new administration is facing its first major crisis.

The head of the Nigeria Labor Congress, Abdulwahed Omar, one of Nigeria's two powerful unions, says he is satisfied with the first day of the strike.

"Very, very successful, and I want to assure you we are very grateful to Nigerians," he said. "And this clearly shows that Nigerians are really aggrieved. They are angry and it is not too much for Mr. President to salvage the situation."

Abuja, the capital, like other main cities in Nigeria, was very quiet with virtually all government offices as well schools, banks and non-essential services closed. Public transport was also shut down.

The streets of the largest city, Lagos, were also deserted. Security personnel were patrolling public facilities across the country.

Unions called an indefinite strike in the world's eighth largest oil exporter after talks with the government ended in a deadlock.

Organized labor rejected government concessions on gasoline prices, insisting only a full price reversal could make it call off the strike.

Support appears very strong on the streets of Abuja.

"I support the strike," said a supporter. "I believe our government takes us for granted. Nigerians are already overburdened by their so-called policies. We need this strike; we need to tell these people enough is enough."

"I support the strike entirely; no reservations at all," said another one. "Because the strike is for a just cause. It is important to the people of Nigeria that the issues involved in the strike are resolved in favor of the masses of Nigerians who are suffering tremendously."

"We must begin to understand and behave like a nation in a democracy," said the other supporter. "We cannot be talking of building a democracy when at the same time, the principles and practices that are prescribed by a democratic environment are not respected by a government that is supposed to be leading the way."

International flights in and out of the country have also been disrupted as fuel deliveries have been halted.

Analysts say the strike threat is a major challenge to the newly inaugurated President Umaru Yar'Adua, who took office three weeks ago and has yet to name a cabinet.

Union officials say no talks with the government are scheduled.