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Outcry in Nigeria as fuel prices double

LAGOS, Nigeria - Irate drivers in Africa’s most populous nation paid more than twice the usual price yesterday after the government quietly removed a long-cherished consumer subsidy that had kept gas prices low, prompting fears of strikes and unrest.

Gasoline powers Nigeria’s generators because the national electricity supply is sporadic at best, and fuel also keeps engines running in traffic that can snarl for hours. The government’s announcement, made over a long holiday weekend, drew outrage.

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“This New Year ‘gift’ by the presidency is callous, insensitive, and is intended to cause anarchy in the country,’’ said a joint statement by two unions who said they were planning general strikes and protests in the coming days. “We shall neither surrender nor retreat.’’

Unrest would only add to Nigeria’s security woes: President Goodluck Jonathan already declared a state of emergency over the weekend in parts of the country hit by a growing Islamic insurgency that is fueled in part by widespread poverty.

And fuel prices may rise even higher in the landlocked and violence-plagued north, as Nigeria’s refined oil is mainly imported through ports in the country’s south.

Signs at a gas stations that were open yesterday put the cost at $3.50 per gallon, more than double Sunday’s morning price of about $1.70 per gallon. Although cheap by US standards, most Nigerians subsist on just $2 a day, and the rising gas prices are expected to force food prices to spiral as well.

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