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Nigerian villagers extend protest at oil platforms

Written by: Staff
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PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, Oct 27 (Reuters) Villagers occupying four oil pumping stations in Nigeria extended their protest to a third day today in the hope of extracting contracts from Western oil companies.

The protesters had agreed on Wednesday to vacate the facilities on condition that they were given contracts to supply food and speed boats to the oil platforms located deep in the swamps of Rivers state in the eastern Niger Delta.

But villagers said Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron had yet to agree to the new contracts, holding up a final resolution of the crisis.

''The position of the community has still not been accepted by the oil companies,'' said Dan Opusingi, a traditional ruler of the Kula community where the protest is taking place.

The invasion has reduced Nigerian oil ouput by about 60,000 barrels per day (bpd), on top of 500,000 bpd lost since February when militants staged a series of attacks on Shell platforms in the western delta.

It has underlined fears in the industry that violence which hit operations in the western delta is spreading east to Rivers and Akwa Ibom states, which pump about 1 million bpd.

Seven foreign oil workers were released unharmed on Saturday after an unprecedented raid on a compound for contractors working for US giant Exxon Mobil in Akwa Ibom state.

In a series of attacks in February, militants from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta forced Shell to shut down all its oil production in the western delta.

Although that group appears to have waned, violence by other groups has been on the rise and analysts expect the situation to worsen in the run-up to general elections in April.

A Shell source said some of the facilities may have been vandalised during the occupation, meaning that they will not be able to resume production immediately.

Company spokesmen were not immediately available.

Violence in the Niger Delta is rooted in poverty, corruption and lawlessness. Many residents of the impoverished region resent the multibillion-dollar industry which has damaged their environment, but brought them few benefits.

However, the violence has taken on a momentum of its own. Turf wars over control of a lucrative trade in stolen crude, abductions for ransom, sabotage and thuggery fomented for political ends are all part of the equation.

REUTERS PDM ND1632

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