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Nigerian Negotiators Reportedly Close to Reaching Deal with Strikers - 2003-07-04

Negotiators in Nigeria say they are close to a deal to end a strike that began Monday in protest over a massive fuel price hike by the government. Progress came after added pressure from union members in the oil sector.

The head of the Nigerian Labor Congress, Adams Oshiomole, says he is confident an agreement can be reached quickly because politicians are now involved in the negotiations.

"What this occasion demands is statesmanship and a political solution, rather than a technical one," he said. "So, now I am confident that we are close to a solution that most Nigerians can live with."

Mr. Oshiomole spoke Thursday after meeting with President Olusegun Obasanjo. He later met with Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

Mr. Abubakar also said he was confident a deal can be reached soon.

A team of government negotiators, made up mostly of technical experts, had failed to reach a breakthrough with union leaders in their talks since the start of the strike Monday.

Union leaders will meet Saturday to discuss the latest government offer.

The government has said the price rise, which is linked to a slash in subsidies for Nigerian consumers, is needed to modernize the oil sector and curb smuggling.

The progress in the talks came after union leaders in the oil sector warned they would shut down exports by the end of the week, if the situation were not resolved. Nigeria is Africa's leading oil producer.

The strike has been marked by rowdy demonstrations in major cities, with activists trying to prevent people from getting to work. So far, the oil sector has not been affected, but many banks, markets, gas stations and even hospitals have been closed.

Several violent clashes between security forces and union activists have led to more than 100 arrests and several deaths.