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Nigerian Unions Insist on General Strike

Nigeria's top unions say they will begin an indefinite general strike after failing to reach a last-minute compromise with the government. Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports for VOA on the buildup to what could be a long, crippling shutdown.

The three-week-old Yar'Adua administration is facing one of its biggest challenges to date as an indefinite general strike takes off this week in Nigeria.

Unions officials met and affirmed that the strike should start at midnight to protest a 15 percent increase in gasoline prices, the doubling of a value-added tax and the privatization of two oil refineries by former president Olusegun Obasanjo days before he left office on May 29. Unions are also pushing for a 15 percent pay rise.

Talks between the government and unions have floundered and the political opposition has come out in full support of the action.

"It is the right step in the right direction, because it is anti-people policies that need to be reversed," said Ibrahim Modibo, spokesman of the main opposition party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party. "Not only the fuel [price] but the VAT. It is not only anti-people, but I think it is criminal for anybody to arbitrary increase fuel prices without looking at the economic implication on the ordinary Nigerian."

Long lines have formed at fuel pumps across Africa's top oil producer, as a strike by fuel tanker drivers entered its fifth day.

The new administration is also grappling with an insurgency in the oil-rich Niger Delta as well as tensions over flawed elections in May.

Abdullahi Jalo, an executive of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, says a paralyzing strike could destabilize the new government.

"A government that has come in newly, with this type of problems, it is an invitation to anarchy and chaos," he said. "The only way for this issue to be resolved is to sit at the table, not a strike. A strike will not solve this problem, because it may make an approach for the entire system to be destabilized."

The strike could affect oil exports, but previous strikes in Nigeria have generally been resolved within a few days.