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cnn.com: Protesting villagers leave Shell facilities in Nigeria

POSTED: 1417 GMT (2217 HKT), October 31, 2006

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (AP) — Angry villagers who took over three Shell oil installations in Nigeria’s troubled southern delta region vacated the facilities Tuesday after a six-day occupation, a community spokesman said.

Elsewhere, however, a group of villagers who occupied a facility run by the Agip oil company on Saturday remained at the site for a third day.

Members of the Kula community living near Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s Ekulama 1, Ekulama 2 and Belema oil pumping stations took over the facilities October 25, accusing the oil giant of failing to meet the terms of an agreement to give them preferential contracts to provide boats and some supplies used at installations.

The protesters initially agreed to leave after talks with the Rivers state government in charge of the area, but decided to stay after accusing Shell of declining to sign a commitment to meet their terms.

“In the interest of peace and in response to government intervention, we vacated the place this morning,” community spokesman Dan Opusingi said Tuesday. But he warned that the protesters will return if their terms are not met after three weeks.

Shell received information that the protesters had left and was trying to verify it, a company official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Scores of protesters from the Egbema-Ngalabiri community continued to occupy Agip’s Clough Creek facility, some 100 kilometers [60 miles] west of Kula, on Tuesday after invading it just before midnight Saturday and forcing workers there to shut down operations, said Joshua Benamesia, a security aide of the Bayelsa state government in charge of the area. Agip is a subsidiary of Italian energy company, ENI SpA.

The community wants the company to build two roads and help provide jobs for its people, he said.

Meanwhile, Agip employees in the oil industry center of Port Harcourt disrupted office work at the company’s regional headquarters Tuesday to back demands for extra pay to cover increased risks oil workers face in the Niger Delta as armed militants step up their attacks on the oil industry. The company’s main entrance was barricaded by unionists, preventing people from entering the building, while employees sat in their offices without working.

“All the staff are asking is for management to be more sensitive to the situation in which they work,” said Alex Akalazu, a spokesman for the white-collar oil workers union PENGASSAN.

Some of the protesting workers threatened to shut down the company’s exports from Nigeria of about 200,000 barrels daily.

Agip officials were not immediately available for comment.

After villagers seized the Shell facilities last week, Chevron’s nearby Robertkiri installation, producing 16,000 barrels daily, was closed as a precaution. Chevron plans to reopen the facility soon, company spokesman Femi Odumabo said, adding that the company was meeting with government officials to work out final terms. He gave no further details.

Shell did not say how much of its oil was cut off.

Residents of Nigeria’s oil-rich delta region have long complained that they remain impoverished while foreign oil companies and the central government pump oil and give little back.

The area’s inhabitants often turn to oil companies who run joint ventures with the Nigerian state with demands for jobs, schools and electricity. Their anger frequently has manifested itself in protests, and angry mobs have occupied oil facilities. Most such seizures have ended peacefully.

Since earlier this year, armed militia groups that claim to be fighting for similar causes have stepped up attacks on oil installations, resulting in a 25 percent cut in oil production in the country.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is the continent’s biggest oil producer.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

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