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Nigerian Court Rejects Government Request to Stop Planned Strike - 2004-01-16

A Nigerian court has rejected a government request to prevent a labor protest against higher fuel prices planned for next week.

Late Friday, the chief judge of the federal capital territory of Abuja, Lawal Gumi dismissed the government's bid to stop the planned strike, saying the request has no legal basis.

Government lawyers filed their motion Thursday, saying Nigeria's National Labor Congress should not be allowed to go on strike for a matter that does not concern working conditions.

The motion was presented after talks with the union, which is the country's largest and includes oil workers, broke down without any progress.

The union has called on the government to abandon a new fuel tax of 1.5 naira per liter, or about one U.S. cent. The tax was implemented this year to pay for highway maintenance.

The union says it will organize a nationwide strike starting next Wednesday,if the new tax is not revoked.

The union initially said the tax was illegal because it was part of a new budget, which has yet to be passed. But the government now says the tax's inclusion in the budget was a mistake, so the matter will not be considered by lawmakers.

Still, union leaders have been trying to reduce the price of fuel since last year, when the government started deregulating the oil sector and ended fuel subsidies.

Since then, the price of fuel has risen from about 20 U.S. cents per liter, to nearly 35 cents.

Nigeria is one of the world's top 10 oil producers, so many Nigerian labor leaders believe the country's people should have access to cheap fuel.

The government says the higher prices are helping pay for much needed infrastructure projects.