Fri, Jul 04, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Police use tear gas to quell protest

AP , LAGOS, NIGERIA

Strikers from the National Labour Congress wave flags and chant to passing motorists in front of a gas station in Lagos, Nigeria yesterday, as the country marked its third day of a nationwide strike opposing an increase in the price of fuel.

PHOTO:AP

Police fired tear gas and warning shots in a crowded marketplace in Nigeria's capital Wednesday, sparking a stampede of shopkeepers and protesters on the third day of a nationwide strike to protest a drastic hike in fuel prices.

More than 1,000 people fled the warren of market stalls in Abuja, where union members were trying to persuade shopkeepers to join the strike to protest the increase in fuel prices of more than 50 percent.

Witnesses said several people were injured in the stampede.

Elsewhere in Abuja, protesters barricaded major streets and smashed the windshields of cars to enforce orders by union leaders for people to stay home.

In the southeastern city of Port Harcourt, police fired tear gas and gun shots in the air to break up a rally of more than 2,000 university students demonstrating on a main street.

The strike, launched Monday, has paralyzed businesses and some airlines in Africa's most populous nation.

A spokeswoman for President Olusegun Obasanjo said that unspecified actions would be taken over the brutal police breakup of striking protesters in Abuja.

Three journalists and several union officials were injured during the incident Tuesday at a federal government complex.

"It was an unfortunate incident, which is distressing," spokeswoman Remi Oyo told reporters.

At a separate news briefing, national Police Chief Tafa Balogun promised those responsible for the attack on protesters and journalists would be punished.

But he also accused union members of being "a threat to law and order" by taking over airport control towers in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos and in the southeastern city of Enugu. Some flights were canceled.

Some small shops, restaurants and schools reopened in Nigerian cities on Wednesday, though most banks, major businesses and government offices remained closed.

Union and government officials were meeting Wednesday in a third day of talks to end the strike.

Officials with the two largest oil unions said the strike was beginning to slow crude exports from Nigeria, which is Africa's largest petroleum producer.

However, spokesmen for multinational giants Royal Dutch/Shell and ChevronTexaco -- the country's two largest oil companies -- said the protests hadn't affected the company's production yet, although some office workers had failed to show up for work.

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