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Strife over Fuel Prices Intensifies in Nigeria - 2003-07-07

Clashes have escalated in Nigeria as a strike over a fuel price increase enters its second week. Union leaders said at least 10 protesters were shot dead by police. The strike is continuing, even though some unions are pulling out.

In the main city, Lagos, and in nearby suburbs, heavily armed police clashed with protesters who set up barricades and smashed cars trying to prevent others from getting to work. Union leaders said police fired bullets into angry crowds on several occasions.

Violence also flared in the southeastern oil-producing region. Witnesses said mobs burned cars and looted shops in the city of Uyo.

Earlier, the head of the Nigerian Labor Congress, Adams Oshiomole, said the strike needed to continue because the government's offer to set the price of a liter of fuel at about 27 cents, is not low enough. "The resolution of the National Executive Council of the NLC is pursuant to the rejection of the 35 naira [27 cents] per liter being offered by the federal government. It is also pursuant of an affordable pricing regime for petroleum products. We do not have to win this battle, but we must not fear to fight this battle," he said.

Several white collar unions who had joined the strike, including a union of oil administrative workers, are now pulling out, because of the government's willingness to reduce the price hike from a 50 percent increase to about 35 percent.

The government said the price of fuel needs to go up because it is cutting down on fuel subsidies to save for projects in education, health, and infrastructure.

But there is growing pressure for the government to end the strike before President Bush visits Nigeria at the end of the week.

The government also fears the strike could begin disrupting the oil sector. Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer, but its oil industry is marred by mismanagement and corruption.