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Nigerian petrol stations blockaded

Angry mobs of protesters have stopped petrol station owners in Nigeria from selling fuel, while others lit a bonfire on a major highway in an attempt to thwart the government's removal of a cherished consumer subsidy which had kept petrol affordable for more than two decades.

A rapidly growing group of protesters was going from garage to garage, telling owners not to sell petrol at the inflated price of about 3.50 dollars (£2.25) a gallon. That is more than double what consumers paid only days ago for the fuel desperately needed to power the generators that keep many businesses running.

And on one major highway in the city of Lagos, protesters yelled: "Occupy the express!" and lit a bonfire which forced scores of drivers to turn around.

The government's quiet announcement over the long holiday weekend that the subsidy was being ended has led to protests being organised in major cities across the country. Previous attempts to tamper with the subsidy over the last two decades have been met with nationwide demonstrations.

Nigeria's government maintains the country will save some 8 billion dollars (£5.2 billion) - money that can be invested in much-needed infrastructure projects.

President Goodluck Jonathan announced that he has set up a committee to ensure that the savings will be invested effectively to improve the quality of life of Nigerians.

Few, though, have seen any benefit from the country's vast oil wealth over decades of production, and a culture of distrust of government permeates Nigerian society.

"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."

The unrest over rising petrol prices is only further adding to Nigeria's security woes. Mr Jonathan already declared a state of emergency over the weekend in parts of the country hit by a growing Islamic insurgency that is fuelled in part by widespread poverty.

On Monday afternoon, police officers dispersed a protest in the capital of Abuja using tear gas and arrested five people including a former politician. And at one bus stop in Lagos, a conductor pushed a policeman trying to board his bus for free, saying the hike meant that even uniformed officers would henceforth have to pay.

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