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Strike to Take Aim at Rising Fuel Prices in Nigeria

A Nigerian trade union is calling for a general strike Thursday to protest higher fuel prices in the wake of the government's abrupt decision to lift subsidies on fuel products such as gasoline.

The Nigerian Labor Congress said the strike could last up to two weeks. It insists that poor Nigerians should not have to pay for reform.

Starting Thursday, union leaders also want workers to boycott the ongoing All-Africa Games.

The two main oil unions, known as NUPENG and PENGASSAN, have demanded that the government explain by next Friday why it lifted subsidies.

The head of NUPENG, Peter Akpatason, said the strike could extend to oil rigs and terminals.

He said oil unions are concerned less by the price increase than by other problems in the oil industry, such as improving refineries. "What we are doing is taking an industry position. This, however, does not preclude either of the unions NUPENG or PENGASSAN from aligning with the umbrella body, so it is possible that NUPENG will join the strike action, but even beyond that we are still interested in government fixing the refineries and doing certain things to stabilize the oil industry, so we might extend our own action beyond that," Mr. Akpatason said.

A strike that followed an earlier price increase was suspended in July after the government scaled back the new prices. That action was marked by violent protests, but oil exports were not affected.

Several days ago, the state fuel pricing agency released a complicated document on deregulating the fuel industry. This was followed by an increase of more than 15 percent in the price of refined fuel products.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil exporter, but it imports most of the refined product.

The federal government has said that ending subsidies is needed to curb oil smuggling and to save money for social programs. But it did not release a formal statement to announce the end of the subsidies.