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Threat of oil production shutdown in Nigeria

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Threat of oil production shutdown in Nigeria
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LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- A major union threatened Thursday to stop the beating heart of Nigeria's economy -- crude oil production -- as part of a nationwide strike and protests gripping Africa's most populous nation.

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World oil prices climbed on the news. Nigeria is the fifth-largest oil exporter to the U.S., and a shutdown would force American refineries to replace 630,000 barrels per day of crude.

The union's ability to enforce a shutdown, beginning Sunday, across the swamps of Nigeria's southern delta to its massive offshore oil fields, remains in question.

But the threat of a strike caused jitters on global oil markets as traders worldwide worried about supply.

Nigeria has been paralyzed by a strike that began Monday after President Goodluck Jonathan's government abandoned subsidies that kept gasoline prices low.

Overnight, prices at the pump more than doubled, from $1.70 per gallon to at least $3.50 per gallon. The costs of food and transportation also doubled in a nation where most people live on less than $2 a day.

Anger over losing one of the few benefits average Nigerians see from being an oil-rich country, as well as disgust over government corruption, have led to demonstrations across this nation of 160 million people and violence that has killed at least 12 people.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, which represents about 20,000 workers, said it would be forced to "apply the bitter option" of closing down all oil and gas production if the government refused to reinstate the gasoline subsidies.

Union president Babatunde Ogun said if fields are shut down, it could take six months to a year to restart them.

"We ... believe that if everything comes to a standstill, the government will budge," Ogun told reporters in Lagos.

Petrol dollars dominate Nigeria's economy and represent the majority of its government revenues.

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