updated 10/13/2004 5:27:37 PM ET 2004-10-13T21:27:37

Nigeria’s main oil workers union threatened to join a nationwide strike and shut down the nation’s oil industry as a court rejected a government attempt Wednesday to halt the work stoppage.

The strike, which was launched Monday, has closed most major businesses, but it has not yet disrupted Nigeria’s daily export of 2.5 million barrels of oil. Still, the oil union’s comments Wednesday only fed jitters about global supply that have helped send prices to record highs.

Nigeria’s main oil workers’ union, NUPENG, said its members were manning key positions for now, but it vowed to turn off the spigots if the government used heavy-handed tactics to end the protest.

The union’s president, Peter Akpatason, told The Associated Press: “If there are arrests, we will change our strategy. ... We can move to stop operations 100 percent.”

“We’re still allowing critical aspects of production and export operations to go on,” but NUPENG was not letting fresh crews replace those now at work, he said.

Court refuses to step in
Nigeria, a nation of more than 130 million people, is the world’s seventh-largest oil exporter and the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports.

Nigeria’s leading trade union, the Nigeria Labor Congress, has threatened to extend the strike beyond Thursday. It was supposed to last four days and resume again in two weeks if the government failed to lower fuel prices.

Union leaders demand that the government reverse a 23 percent fuel price hike. Local fuel prices have steadily risen since the market was deregulated last year.

In the capital, Abuja, a high court struck down a request by government lawyers that would have required union leaders to end the work action, said Femi Falana, a lawyer for the Nigeria Labor Congress.

“The court has not stopped the strike,” Falana said. “And that is a good development.”

Remi Oyo, a spokeswoman for President Olusegun Obasanjo, would not comment.

The strike shut most major businesses in Lagos and other large cities Wednesday. But taxis were running, and many private businesses were still open in Abuja.

In the northern opposition bastion of Kano, work stoppages included actions at public hospitals.

At the city’s Aminu Kanu Teaching Hospital, six women wept over the covered remains of Iya Monsurat, 50, who died after hospital workers walked off the job and left her unattended. She had checked in three days earlier with a high fever.

“As soon as the strike started, there was nobody to attend to her. She died this morning,” said Monsurat’s niece, Ramat Adepoju.

“It is a pity there is nothing we can do” to treat people, said Harisu Manir, a hospital union official, who said, “Our strike is total.”

Clashes between police and pro-union protesters have left killed at least two people since Monday, and dozens of others have been arrested.

“The strike is going on, and it’s quite effective across the country,” said Owei Lakemfa, a spokesman for the Nigeria Labor Congress. “We have told the police that if the arrests and harassment continue, we’ll have to extend the strike beyond tomorrow.”

Hope for a resolution
But Labor Congress leader Adams Oshiomhole appeared to leave open the possibility of ending the strike as originally planned.

“If the arrests abate, as seems to be the case, and there’s no renewed aggression or brutality or arrests by police, then we can stick to the plan to end the strike Thursday,” Oshiomhole said.

Oil giant Royal Dutch/Shell said Wednesday that it had cut production by 13,000 barrels a day after saboteurs sawed through a major pipeline in the oil-rich Niger Delta and set it on fire. The cutback, which will last a few days while repairs are made, was not expected to affect exports, Shell said.

Overseas traders closed watched the events in Nigeria and the hurricane-hobbled Gulf of Mexico.

Crude for November delivery was down 21 cents at $52.30 Wednesday in midday trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after dipping to $51.49 earlier in the day. Light sweet crude settled at $52.51 on Tuesday, after reaching a new high of $54.45.

In London, on the International Petroleum Exchange, Brent crude dropped 60 cents at $49 in afternoon trading. Brent briefly topped $50 on Tuesday.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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