Nigeria general strike moves into second day

A nationwide general strike called by unions seeking to overturn government price hikes moved into its second day on Thursday, with streets increasingly deserted across Africa's most-populous nation.

Banks and government offices were closed for a second day. There was no word, though, on any oil production or export cuts from Africa's biggest producer of crude.

With fuel-delivery tankers stilled, motorists were unable to fill up their automobiles, forcing increasing ranks of workers to stay at home.

Many flights were canceled as airlines feared they wouldn't be able to refill their jets with fuel after they arrived at their destination.

Markets for essential items stayed open, however, and there were no signs of scarcities for food, although prices were rising as demand gained on supply.

Nigeria is one of the world's leading crude producers, but virtually all of its gasoline is now imported after years of graft, mismanagement and violence rendered refineries inoperable.

Heavy government subsidies keep reimported petroleum products cheap in a country whose citizens complain they get little else in the way of services from a notoriously corrupt government. Unions launched their strike in hopes of forcing the government to roll back a 15 percent increase on automobile fuel, among other demands that the government has already conceded.

Only three weeks in office, President Umaru Yar'Adua is facing perhaps his biggest challenges so far - one handed to him by his successor who announced the price hike and related tax increases in the waning days of his administration.

Oil receipts account for some 80 percent of Nigeria's total government revenue and the unions are threatening to close the taps of Nigeria's energy industry, which is the biggest in Africa and the eighth-largest worldwide, sending crude prices toward nine-month highs on international markets.

Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo jacked the price up only days before handing over power on May 29 to Yar'Adua, who prevailed in elections rejected as rigged by the opposition and deemed not credible by international observers. Obasanjo stepped down because of term limits; Yar'Adua was the candidate of Obasanjo's party.

Yar'Adua's new administration, its legitimacy undermined by the flawed election, engaged the unions and offered to roll back the 15 percent fuel price increase by about half - despite the drain on government coffers that the subsidy represents. The government is trying to liberalize the economy and abolish anticompetitive tactics.

But in a move widely viewed as a probing tactic to gauge Yar'Adua's strength, the unions insisted on a complete repeal of the new measures, which also included Obasanjo's last-minute sale of two refineries to a pair of rich supporters.