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Nigeria Strike Over Oil Prices to Enter Second Week - 2003-07-06

A strike in Nigeria over a massive fuel price hike is set to enter a second week as the main labor union is standing firm on its rejection of a compromise offer by the government.

Some union officials say an agreement had been reached, but top union leaders from the National Labor Congress insist that the strike action continues.

Union leaders say the government is offering to lower the price of fuel to about 27 cents a liter, but they say that is not enough.

The initial price hike implemented last month following a cut in fuel subsidies sent the price soaring more than 50 percent, to more than 30 cents.

The rejection of the government's latest compromise offer was formally made Saturday by the union's National Executive Council, the NEC. But the head of the Nigerian Labor Congress, Adams Oshiomole, says there is still room for flexibility.

"However, for the purpose of encouraging the government to be more flexible, the NEC has mandated the leadership to negotiate for them within certain limits that if settlement is reached within the limits which have now been posed by the NEC then the leadership can use this discretion to call off the strike," he said.

A white-collar trade union has agreed to the compromise, but union leaders from the National Labor Congress say they will decide when the strike ends, because they called it in the first place.

An oil workers union that has joined the strike is threatening to shut down oil production starting Monday. So far, the work stoppage has affected mainly banks, markets and even hospitals in major cities. The protest action has also been marked by rowdy demonstrations.

There is increasing pressure for the government to make further compromise to end the strike before President Bush arrives in Nigeria next Friday.

But the government still wants to substantially cut subsidies. The move is part of efforts to modernize Nigeria's large, but inefficient, oil sector and save money for education, infrastructure projects and agriculture.