#Nigeria oil unions may join strike

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Nigeria oil unions threaten joining strike. Photo: AFP

Nigeria’s two largest oil workers’ unions have threatened to shut down all production as part of the four-day national strike. Pengassan, the biggest oil union, said it was ready to join the mass action in Africa’s biggest crude producer, which exports more than 2m barrels a day.

The indefinite nationwide strike which paralyzed the country’s banks, transport and transit, began Monday after the Nigerian government cancelled  a fuel subsidy program on January 1, which caused a more than doubling of the petrol price from 65 naira ($0.40).

Nigeria is an OPEC member and 80% of its budget comes from oil exports.

Though workers are unlikely to be able to stop output completely , since many processes are automated, the move will have a severe impact on an economy driven by oil revenue.

“Now that the federal government has decided to be callous-minded, we hereby direct all production platforms to be on red alert in preparation for total production shutdown,” Babatunde Ogun, Pengassan’s president, said.

On Thursday the second-biggest oil union, Nupeng, which represents mostly blue collar workers, said its members had pulled out of the oilfields. “We have withdrawn our members because we support the strike and we’re an affiliate of the Nigeria Labour Congress [which called the stay-away],” Elijah Okougboh, Nupeng general secretary told Bloomberg.

Demonstrations had been expected, but the level of rage has surprised the government. Tens of thousands of people have joined nationwide protests that have grown each day and tapped into wider disaffection over decades of poor governance and corruption.

The strike has forced the closure of schools, shops, businesses and banks. Road transport has been curtailed and air travel has been badly hit.

Until Wednesday, neither side appeared willing to give any ground, with the government insisting that the $8bn annual subsidy was unaffordable.

But the Pengassan statement may change that. The union said it had not made a final decision to stop output but that it was no longer sending oil production reports to the government – “one of the very first steps to shut down process”.

The biggest recipients of Nigeria’s oil are the US, India, Brazil and the Netherlands.

The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan urged union leaders to enter into talks.

“The government is worried about the threat to shut down oil production because … if they go ahead to carry out their threat that action will worsen our economic problem, which the government is trying to solve,” Labaran Maku, minister of information, told Reuters news agency.

While the removal of the subsidy makes economic sense, shifting the entire burden to the population without first improving services or infrastructure, or tackling corruption, has united the poor and middle classes in anger.

A protest in Ojota, Lagos, drew more than 10,000 people on Wednesday. Demonstrators carried placards with slogans such as “Stop corruption, not the subsidy”.

“This is not just about 65-naira petrol,” said Kehinde Osibote, 47, an electrical engineer. “It’s about the state of roads and power, and the fact that there’s no cushion for the poor. We are not backing down – we must suffer to get results.”

Elsewhere in the commercial capital, youths carrying sticks and bricks blocked some of the main roads, preventing cars passing. There were reports of motorists being robbed. In Kaduna state, the local government imposed a 24-hour curfew to stop the protests.

Via Related News

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9 Jan 2012 World News Digest #Iran #Yemen #Syria

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Börzen Zeitung reports Germany and France kick-off high-level discussions in Berlin today aimed at laying the groundwork for a crunch EU summit on the eurozone debt crisis at the end of the month. It is the first in a series of monthly mini-summits between Merkel and Sarkozy, who want toughen up the rules governing countries which use the single currency. The draft pact, which has been obtained by Sky News, proposes using the European Court of Justice to ensure eurozone countries keep their national debt and budget deficits within agreed limits. The mini-summit will also examine the introduction of a financial transaction tax, which Britain also strongly opposes.

Al Ahram reports that Arab League Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo have demanded that the Syrian government cease its bloody crackdown on protesters but affirmed its commitment to monitoring the situation in the country, despite criticism that monitors have been ineffectual at stopping violence. The move defied opposition politicians and activists who want to halt the mission and refer the issue to the UN Security Council. Many of them are calling for international military intervention.

Sanaa Radio announces that Yemen’s cabinet has approved a draft law which grants President Ali Abdullah Saleh immunity from prosecution as part of a Gulf-brokered transition deal. The law is still to be approved by the country’s parliament. On Friday, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay criticised the deal, saying those who committed abuses during a crackdown on the civil unrest unrest must face justice.

Akhbar Al Youm reports aid groups were mounting a “major emergency operation” in rural South Sudan after tribe-on-tribe violence sent tens of thousands fleeing and killed an unknown number of people. The UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator in South Sudan, Lise Grande, said aid groups were responding to a call for help from South Sudan’s central government after a column of 6,000 armed men from the Lou Nuer ethnic group marched into Pibor in Jonglei state to target the Murle community in late December and early January.

Manila Times quotes President Benigno Aquino of the Philippine warnng of a possible terrorist attack during today’s annual procession of a centuries-old image of Jesus Christ known as the Black Nazarene. Aquino said several terrorists planning to disrupt the religious procession, that may draw more than a million devotees, had been sighted in the capital. He asked devotees not to take mobile phones or weapons to the event.
Abrar quotes Iran’s top nuclear official announcing that the country was on the verge of starting production at its second major uranium enrichment site – the Fordo plant, near the city of Qum. The new facility, buried deep underground on a well-defended military site, is considered far more resistant to airstrikes than the existing enrichment site at Natanz, limiting what Israeli officials, in particular, consider an important deterrent to Iran’s nuclear aims.

Raw Story reports US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has confirmed that Iran is not developing its nuclear programme to make weapons.

News also from Iran today that former US Marine Amir Hekmati has been sentenced to death on charges of espionage. He has 20 days to appeal.

US Republican front-runner Mitt Romney has come under fire from fellow contenders ahead of Tuesday’s primary vote in the state of New Hampshire. At a nationally televised NBC debate, the former Massachusetts governor’s economic programme was called “timid” and his conservative credentials were also questioned.
New Straits Times reports Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been acquitted of sodomy after a two-year trial. Anwar, 64, had consistently denied the charges and called them a government bid to cripple his political ambitions and influence. He was jailed for sodomy in 1999 but the conviction was overturned. He had faced up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Jerusalem Post says The Bill to Prevent Infiltration, a central tenet of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s new policy on illegal immigration, is expected to pass its second and third (final) readings in the Knesset late Monday night. The new law could mean indefinite detention for refugees.

Japan camera maker Olympus is suing it’s president Shuichi Takayama and other senior executives for concealing details of $1.7billion of fraudulent deals over a period of 13 years. The former Olympus CEO Michael Woodford was fired from his post after confronting Takayama.

Voice of Nigeria quotes President Goodluck Jonathan admitting for the first time that sympathisers of the Islamist Boko Haram group were in his government and security agencies. His comments come amid a wave of violence blamed on Boko Haram which has left dozens of people dead in the north, most of them Christians. Boko Haram, wants to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state, has warned southerners, who are mostly Christian and animist, to leave the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria. A senior Christian cleric has warned that the country is sliding towards civil war.

SwissInfo reports the new Libyan government decided on Sunday to lift sanctions against Switzerland and Lebanon, which Moammar Gaddafi had enacted several years ago.

Times of Malta reports that Police in Norway cut in half a traffic fine for a Swedish trucker on the grounds that Swedes earn less than Norwegians. Oslo newspaper VG reports that Ulf Ander Andersson, 61, was driving a lorry for his Norwegian employer in March when he was stopped by police, who found his brakes were not in order. He was fined £857 ($1,323) but last month got a letter saying the sum had been reduced due to his nationality. Mr Andersson told VG he was grateful, though he found it “very strange”.