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Nigerian Police Re-Arrest Union Leader - 2002-01-17

Nigerian labor leaders say police have re-arrested Thursday the head of the Nigeria Labor Congress, as an illegal nationwide strike to protest fuel prices continues for a second day. The strike brought the country to a virtual standstill.

Nigerian authorities Thursday arrested Nigerian Labor Congress President, Adams Oshiomhole, for the second time in two days.

Mr. Oshiomhole had been arrested at a demonstration Wednesday along with at least nine other people. He was later released on bail.

The NLC's call for the second day of protest comes in defiance of an order by the nation's highest court, banning the strike because the union failed to provide the required 21 day advance warning.

The government has implemented strict security measures and urged Nigerians to ignore the strike and go to work.

The strike was widely observed throughout the country on Wednesday. Streets were deserted and shops closed in the commercial capital, Lagos. Some clashes broke out between police and protesters trying to prevent civil servants from going to work.

At least two Nigerian seaports - Apapa and Tin Can Island - remained closed because of the strike.

Union spokesman, Chris Uyot, said the strike would continue with or without the blessing of the court, adding that the decision was aimed at making sure Nigerians' demands for a better standard of living were taken seriously. He said it was a political question, which went beyond legality.

The movement was launched to protest a 20 percent rise in the price of fuel on January 1.

The union believes the increase in prices will have a negative impact on all sectors of the Nigerian economy, raising the cost of all basic goods and services.

Last June, the government voted to introduce a more than 50 percent price rise, but was forced to reverse it after a week-long strike by the NLC.

Because of that decision, there is talk of a stronger determination by the government not to back down this time.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, is one of the world's leading producers of oil. In spite of this, people frequently put up with severe fuel shortages and rising prices. Nigerians believe their country's rich natural oil resources, and low production costs, entitle them to cheap fuel prices.

Since his election in 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo has sought to increase fuel prices as part of an economic liberalization package, agreed to with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

However, the Nigerian Labor Congress has pointed out that Nigerians do not have international salaries, so cannot be expected to pay international prices.

The average income of a Nigerian citizen is $300 a year.