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Nigerian Oil Workers Stick to Strike Plan

Nigerian oil workers are pressing on with a three-day warning strike due to start Wednesday despite last-minute talks with the government. Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA that the strike could cripple Nigeria's struggling oil industry.

Nigeria's two main oil unions say the government's offer of talks was too late and the protest over insecurity in the Niger Delta will begin as planned.

The unions are concerned by a surge in violence and kidnapping of workers in the world's eighth largest oil exporter.

Last month, Nigerian oil worker held hostage in the delta was killed during an attempt to release him.

Peter Esele, national president of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association, brushes aside concerns about the economic impact of the strike and insists on what he calls a holistic resolution of the Niger Delta crisis.

"If under the nose of officials of Bayelsa state government, Nelson Chia was kidnapped and later killed, then what does that tell you? That was when we now felt that if under the government, we are with officials of Bayelsa state government and our workers do not feel secured, then where else do we go to? We are saying the security agencies must come into this matter and people must be brought to justice and we want to see a holistic approach to the development of the Niger Delta," he said.

A meeting called by the government to resolve the oil workers grievances has produced no positive result and Esele is adamant the strike will go on as planned.

"As at yesterday, it [meeting] was deadlocked," he said. "Our demands were presented and we are not getting any positive response."

It was not clear if the strike would affect the country's oil export. Union officials say a decision was yet to be taken on the fate of oil exports.

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer at 2.6 million barrels per day, but a spate of hostage taking and attacks on facilities in the Niger Delta have cut production by more than 800,000 barrels per day.

Concerns about the strike have prompted long lines at gas stations across Nigeria, as panicky motorists line up to fill their tanks.