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Nigeria Hit by General Strike


Security has been tightened in Nigeria, where the country's main workers' union has called a general strike for Wednesday. The action is to protest the government's decision to allow a hike in the price of fuel. On Tuesday the government declared the strike illegal.

The price of gasoline jumped about 20 percent on January 1. Kerosene, which is the fuel most used by many of Nigeria's poor, rose by more than 50 percent.

The government says it must raise the cost of fuel in order to increase Nigeria's slumping oil revenues.

The Nigerian Labor Congress said it called the strike after giving the government an ultimatum to revert to the old prices.

Union spokesman Chris Uyot tells VOA the union called the strike because it believes the price increase will hurt all sectors of the Nigerian economy. "We believe that the present hike in prices of fuel will increase the cost of transportation, which will have an effect on all the basic goods and services in the country," he said. "Already, if you're in Nigeria, you will notice the cost of transportation [has] risen between 60 and 100 percent. So we are against this [increase] because we believe the income of the average Nigerian is not sufficient for these high costs. And we believe that government should not take money at the expense of Nigerians who are suffering."

The government declared the strike illegal, saying the Nigerian Labor Congress did not provide the usual 21 day advance notice required for job actions. Mr. Uyot says the union does not believe it needed to provide notice.

Government officials say they have tightened security around the country.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, is one of the world's leading producers of oil, yet its people live with recurring fuel shortages and mounting prices. These factors have led to widespread smuggling of fuel. In some cases, smugglers make a habit of puncturing gasoline ducts to steal the fuel and then sell it at black market prices.

Those being called to strike include bus and cab drivers, market vendors, government employees, and students.

The government on Wednesday called on Nigerians to do their patriotic duty by ignoring the strike and going to work.

Scuffles broke out in Nigeria's political capital, Abuja, as leaders of the Nigerian Labor Congress, the union organizing the strike, addressed supporters. Police fired tear gas at the crowd. Reports from the scene say a number of union leaders were taken into custody.

In the commercial capital, Lagos, many commuters were stranded Wednesday as taxi drivers and other transportation workers heeded the call for a strike.

Union officials say the stoppage is due to go on indefinitely.

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