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Nigerian troops used to block more protests over high fuel prices

President tries to stem outrage of gas subsidy loss

Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters

In Lagos, a city of 15 million, a soldier kept an eye on a crowd of protesters on a barricaded road. President Goodluck Jonathan said that agitators have hijacked the demonstrations.

LAGOS, Nigeria - For the first time since protests erupted over spiraling fuel prices, soldiers barricaded key roads in Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos yesterday as the president offered a concession to stem demonstrations that he said were being stoked by provocateurs seeking anarchy.

Soldiers and police also barricaded entrances to protest venues in Nigeria’s second-largest city of Kano yesterday, including a park near a university and a square in the city center.

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The deployment of troops is a sensitive issue in a nation with a young democracy and a history of military coups. Yesterday in a televised speech, President Goodluck Jonathan said that agitators have hijacked the demonstrations.

Jonathan announced the government would subsidize gasoline prices to immediately reduce the price to about $2.27 a gallon. The concession might not be enough to stem outrage over the government’s stripping of subsidies on Jan. 1 that had kept gas prices low in this oil-rich but impoverished nation.

Even with the measure announced yesterday, gasoline would still be more than a dollar higher than it was just 16 days ago, and anger in Africa’s most populous nation is also now aimed at government corruption and inefficiency.

Tens of thousands have marched in cities across the nation.

In Lagos, a city of 15 million, soldiers set up a checkpoint yesterday morning on the main highway that feeds traffic from the mainland into its islands.

At a park in the Ojota neighborhood on the mainland, where more than 20,000 people had gathered Friday for an antigovernment demonstration, two military armored personnel carriers were parked near an empty stage.

“They are here because they don’t want us to protest,’’ said Remi Odutayo, 25, referring to the soldiers in the park. “They are using the power given to them to do something illegal’’ by stopping demonstrators from gathering.

On Ikoyi Island in Lagos, where some of Nigeria’s wealthy and some foreign diplomats live, more than a dozen Nigerian air force personnel carrying assault rifles questioned drivers at a roundabout where more 1,000 protesters had regularly gathered last week. Drivers had to slow down because the airmen had put metal barricades and debris in the street.

Jonathan’s speech comes after his attempt to negotiate with labor unions failed late Sunday night to avert the strike entering a sixth day.

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