Nigeria unions suspend strikes in fuel dispute

Fri Jan 13, 2012 5:40pm GMT

By Joe Brock and Camillus Eboh

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian unions suspended strikes and protests over rising petrol prices for the weekend on Friday while talks take place between union leaders and government, but warned of more industrial action if there was no resolution.

Domestic airports would reopen to allow union leaders to fly to the capital of Africa's biggest crude oil producer to hold delicate talks with government officials on reversing a cut in petrol subsidies, but if no agreement could be reached strikes would resume next week.

"The labour movement and its civil society allies after nationwide consultations has decided that Saturday and Sunday will be observed as strike, protest and rally-free days," a joint statement from Nigeria's main labour unions said.

"We ask Nigerians to utilise these days to rest, restock and get re-energised for the continuation of the strikes, rallies and protest from Monday."

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets and staged strikes for five straight days in cities across Nigeria in protest against the removal of fuel subsidies on January 1, which more than doubled the pump price to 150 naira ($0.93) per litre from 65 naira.

Pressure is mounting on President Goodluck Jonathan to reach a deal in Abuja over the weekend. Nigeria's main oil union had threatened to shut down output, which provides 80 percent of national revenues, from Sunday if the government did not relent.

Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi told Reuters the strikes were costing Africa's second biggest economy around $600 million a day, based on a daily average of GDP for the year.

The fuel subsidy confrontation is another serious setback for Jonathan as Nigeria, whose population is roughly evenly split between Christians and Muslims, has also been rocked by a series of attacks by Islamist militants.   Continued...

A man holds a sign at Gani Fawehinmi freedom square on the fifth day of a protest against a fuel subsidies removal, in Lagos January 13, 2012. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye
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