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Nigerian Police Break Up Protests over Fuel Price Increase - 2003-06-30

Nigerian police have broken up protests at the start of a general strike over a massive fuel price hike. Police in the main city Lagos fired tear gas and bullets in the air Monday to disperse protesters who chanted anti-government slogans while burning tires in the street.

In the capital, Abuja, police clashed with union pickets who were preventing civil servants from entering their offices.

The indefinite strike was called by the Nigerian Labor Congress to protest a government decision to slash subsidies on fuel prices.

Despite a court order ruling the work stoppage illegal, large numbers of Nigerian workers stayed at home or joined street demonstrations in Lagos, Abuja, northern opposition strongholds and elsewhere.

The subsidies cut has increased the price of fuel by more than 50 percent since earlier this month. The government of President Olusegun Obasanjo says the savings are needed for health care and education.

The permanent secretary for the ministry of federal capital territory, Muaza Babangida Aliyu, says because it is illegal, the strike will put workers and their families at risk.

Talks between union leaders and the government are ongoing. Union leaders say they want President Obasanjo to make a reasonable offer to reduce the scale of the price rise.

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer, but it still faces chronic fuel shortages, because most of the oil is shipped abroad.