Nigerian Unions Suspend Fuel Price Protests for Two Days

Posted January 13th, 2012 at 7:45 am (UTC-5)
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Nigerian unions leading a nationwide strike against soaring fuel prices say they will halt their protests — but only for the weekend.

The Nigerian Labor Congress said Friday that it wants members to take a break from demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday, then return to action on Monday.

Labor leaders gave different reasons for the suspension, with one saying that organizers want protesters to relax, then come back energized.

Union supporters held their fifth straight day of protests Friday, after talks between Nigeria's president and union leaders appeared to yield little progress on whether to restore a consumer fuel subsidy.

The government eliminated the subsidy January 1, causing fuel prices to double.

A union of oil industry staff workers has threatened to join the strike beginning Sunday if the issue is not resolved.

The union's chairman, Babatunde Ogun, spoke to VOA .

“We have given government the next 48 hours to consider and engage other stakeholders.”

Nigeria exports more than two million barrels of crude oil a day. Experts say it is not clear how much production would be affected by a strike, since much of the process is automated, but even a minor disruption could have an impact on the country's economy and affect global oil prices.

World oil prices have climbed over news of the possible shutdown.

The United States said Thursday it was closely monitoring the situation. But State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the United States supports the right of Nigerians to protest peacefully. She said it was “incumbent on the government to encourage an environment that remains peaceful.”

Many businesses, shops and schools around the country remained closed Friday as the demonstrations continued.

President Goodluck Jonathan and his government eliminated the fuel subsidy on the grounds that Nigeria can no longer afford the $8 billion program. Mr. Jonathan has promised to use the money on infrastructure and social programs.

Most Nigerians live on less than $2 a day and the fuel subsidy was one of the few benefits they received from the country's oil wealth.

Some economists have said the subsidy was wasteful, but protesters have alleged that government corruption and mismanagement are responsible for the oil-rich nation's sustained poverty.