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Nigerian union leader arrested

BBC- Nigerian police have detained the country's main union leader in the capital, Abuja, at the start of an outlawed general strike over higher fuel prices.
The Nigerian Labour Congress leader, Adams Oshiomhole, was taken into custody along with some supporters as police used tear gas to break up a demonstration outside government offices.

They were attempting to prevent civil servants going to work.

The strike paralysed the commercial capital Lagos on Wednesday.

The price of petrol and diesel has long been one of Nigeria's hottest political issues.

The country has large oil reserves and its production costs are low, so Nigerians have come to see very cheap petrol as their right.

- Price rise

Nigeria's collective trade union body launched the strike after failing to reach a compromise in a dispute with the government over a recent 18% rise in the price of fuel.

The government declared the protest illegal, saying the NLC had not given the required 21 days' advance written notice of the strike action.

The NLC rejected this charge and said the strike would continue until the government backed down and cancelled the fuel price hike.

The BBC's Dan Isaacs in Lagos says the big question now is how well the strike will be heeded in the coming days.

The government has implored what it describes as all well-meaning and patriotic Nigerians to go about their normal business, but this is almost certainly a forlorn hope, our correspondent says.

With no public transport running, simply getting to work is a challenge, and even the most patriotic Nigerian may find it easier just to stay at home.

- Power competition

Union leaders will be hoping that they can keep up the pressure by maintaining a united front.

The government will be aiming to drive a wedge between those unions fully behind the strike - generally representing the lowest paid workers - and the white-collar, more affluent unions whose members may be less concerned about the recent fuel price rises.

Mindful of the last general strike in Nigeria in mid-2000, when the government backed down over fuel prices, there is talk of a stronger determination on the part of President Olusegun Obasanjo's administration not to be seen to be weak this time.

- Security tightened

The government tightened security throughout the country ahead of the strike, the Governor of Kaduna State, Ahmed Makarfi, told reporters on Tuesday.

- Last year's price rises sparked widespread protests

"Definite steps have been taken and will be reinforced to ensure the safety of lives and property," he said, speaking after an emergency meeting attended by the national police chief, the vice president and most of Nigeria's 36 state governors.

The governors discussed ways to prevent destabilisation in Africa's most populous country, where more than 10,000 people have been killed in communal unrest since return to civil rule in May 1999.

Federal government secretary Ufot Ekaette warned that security forces had been ordered to deal "appropriately" with potential lawbreakers.

"Security agencies have been directed to ensure unimpeded access to offices and work places," Mr Ekaette said.



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