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Nationwide strike begins in Nigeria over gas costs
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LAGOS, Nigeria — A national strike paralyzed much of Nigeria on Monday, with more than 10,000 demonstrators swarming its commercial capital to protest soaring fuel prices and decades of government corruption in the oil-rich country.
At least one person was killed in the unrest in Lagos, and a mob of people pushed the body in a wheelbarrow down the street.
In the northern city of Kano, two people died and at least 31 were wounded when security officers used tear gas and fired at crowds protesting the fuel price hikes.
Protesters in Lagos took gasoline from motorbikes to set tires ablaze. Some demonstrators waved placards bearing an effigy of President Goodluck Jonathan with devil horns and fanged teeth, and showing him pumping fuel at a gas station.
Police carrying Kalashnikov rifles and gas masks in Lagos largely stood by as the demonstrators marched on the first day of an indefinite strike called by labor unions. Protesters also took to the streets in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.
In Kano, Nigeria’s second-largest city, protest organizer Ashiru Sharif said two young men were fatally shot by security officers who opened fire on a crowd of chanting protesters.
“We were not attacking anybody,” said Mr. Sharif, adding that 24 other peaceful protesters were wounded.
Meanwhile, protesters broke down part of the fence at the seat of Kano’s state government where security officers also shot at people, wounding about seven others.
Gas prices have risen from $1.70 per gallon to at least $3.50 per gallon since a government fuel subsidy ended on Jan. 1 at the orders of Mr. Jonathan’s administration. That spurred a spike in prices for food and transportation across a nation of more than 160 million people, most of whom live on less than $2 a day.
Lawmakers on Sunday rebuked the president’s decision, but the unions said they would continue their strike.
Nigeria’s finance minister said the country has been using borrowed funds to maintain the subsidy.
“We can’t keep borrowing to finance our development,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told local television station Channels TV on Monday.
Two major unions have said they will maintain the strike despite a court restraining order. A similar situation occurred in 2003, when strikers over eight days attacked shops that remained open, took over air traffic control towers and caused a drop in oil production in a country vital to U.S. energy supplies.
The strike erupted as activists began a loose-knit group of protests called Occupy Nigeria, inspired by those near Wall Street in New York. Their anger extends to the government’s weak response to ongoing violence in Nigeria by a radical Muslim sect that, according to an Associated Press count, killed at least 510 people last year.
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