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Tue, Nov 02, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Nigerian unions call for national strike

OIL SUPPLY The unions said oil exports would be targeted in a strike called after the government didn't respond to demands to reverse an increase in fuel prices


Unions declared the top oil multinational here, Royal Dutch/Shell, "an enemy of the Nigerian people" and called a Nov. 16 nationwide strike that they said would target oil exports in Africa's oil giant.

The threats on Sunday in the world's No. 7 oil exporter -- the fifth largest supplier of oil to the US, which has a national election today -- appeared likely to send new shocks through the global oil price market.

Unions called the Nov. 16 strike after giving President Olusegun Obasanjo until Sunday to reverse September's 23 percent increase in fuel prices in Nigeria.

Union leaders singled out Royal Dutch/Shell Group, Nigeria's largest petroleum producer. They said the firm planned to take the country's white-collar oil union to court yesterday, in an attempt to prevent it from striking.

Shell officials would not comment on the issue and government officials could not be reached.

"We have resolved to declare Shell an enemy of the Nigerian people," Adams Oshiomhole, leader of the main Nigeria Labor Congress, told reporters.

"Shell will be treated as an enemy. We have the capacity to engage them," Oshiomhole said, without elaborating.

A general strike last month over the fuel price increases paralyzed business overall but left petroleum exports unaffected.

The strike helped push oil prices past the US$50 a barrel mark globally.

Mid-afternoon yesterday in Asia, December crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange was trading electronically at US$52.10 a barrel -- up US$0.34 from its Friday closing. Prices jumped Friday after two days of falls, nearly down to the US$50 mark.

It hit an all-time high of US$55.67 on Oct. 26.

"The last time we did not target oil exports because we expected the government to listen," Brown Ogbeifun, president of the union for Nigeria's white-collar oil workers, said.

"Now that the government will not listen, we have no option but to target exports," Ogbeifun said.

Nigeria exports 2.5 million barrels a day.

Strikes in Nigeria often are violent, at times deadly.

Separately, gangs and ethnic militias vying for local shares of the oil wealth repeatedly have targeted foreign oil producers with kidnappings, takeovers and sabotage.

In March last year, fighting between rival ethnic militia groups near the port city of Warri -- which also drew in government troops -- forced oil companies to shut down 40 percent of Nigeria's oil exports for weeks.

Much of that oil remains shut off.

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