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Nigeria fuel protests: two killed and dozens wounded as police open fire

Monica Mark, Guardian
Two people were killed and swaths of Nigeria ground to a halt on Monday as thousands of protesters took to the streets at the start of an indefinite strike against soaring fuel prices.

According to reports, one person was killed in the commercial hub of Lagos and another in the northern city of Kano, while dozens more were wounded as strikes spread out across the country. Police used live ammunition and teargas in attempts to disperse the crowds.

The usually packed markets and business district of Lagos, with its population of 11 million, emptied out. On the long stretches of highway that span the city’s lagoons, only rare police headlamps pierced the rush-hour fog.

Not everywhere was deserted. Burning tyres lit the way to rallies across the city where thousands massed in protest at the government’s decision to remove state subsidies on fuel as the new year began. That sent fuel prices in Africa’s largest oil-producing country to about 65p a litre, and trade unions urged more than 2 million members to stage an indefinite strike that threatens to paralyse the country.

… In a small Lagos park, Seun Kuti, the son of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, addressed thousands, many waving branches and sporting T-shirts with the slogan “Remove corruption, not subsidy”.

“Does the government think we are mumu [fools?]” he asked a cheering crowd, mixing pidgin English and Yoruba. “Food cost go rise, housing cost go rise, meanwhile ordinary Nigerian’s salary no go rise.”

… Every previous government’s attempt to remove the subsidy, which funnels a quarter of the £15.5bn annual government budget to a well-connected cartel of fuel importers, has floundered amid mass protests. Many see the subsidy as a rare opportunity to share in the nation’s oil riches, whose 2m barrels per day industry has failed to lift the vast majority of citizens out of extreme poverty.
(9 January 2012)
More coverage from Daily Kos (including videos): Occupy Nigeria – 1st African fruits of Qaddafi gone?. -BA

With Work Scarce in Athens, Greeks Go Back to the Land

Rachel Donadio, New York Times
CHIOS, Greece — Nikos Gavalas and Alexandra Tricha, both 31 and trained as agriculturalists, were frustrated working on poorly paying, short-term contracts in Athens, where jobs are scarce and the cost of living is high. So last year, they decided to start a new project: growing edible snails for export.

As Greece’s blighted economy plunges further into the abyss, the couple are joining with an exodus of Greeks who are fleeing to the countryside and looking to the nation’s rich rural past as a guide to the future. They acknowledge that it is a peculiar undertaking, with more manual labor than they, as college graduates, ever imagined doing. But in a country starved by austerity even as it teeters on the brink of default, it seemed as good a gamble as any.

… Unemployment in Greece is now 18 percent, rising to 35 percent for young people between the ages of 15 and 29 — up from 12 percent and 24 percent, respectively, in late 2010. But the agricultural sector has been one of the few to show gains since the crisis hit, adding 32,000 jobs between 2008 and 2010 — most of them taken by Greeks, not migrant workers from abroad, according to a study released this fall by the Pan-Hellenic Confederation of Agricultural Associations.
(8 January 2012)

Korea: Fur shoes, fleece sweaters replace heaters in offices

Lee Ho-jeong, Korea Joongang Daily
Workers complain of igloo-like conditions as power ban in effect

Blankets, sweaters and portable heating devices are becoming more prevalent at offices around the country as energy conservation becomes a new buzzword to help ease anxiety inspired by a blackout last year.

At the Seoul headquarters of Posco, the nation’s leading steelmaker, fleece sweaters have become the employees’ de facto daily uniform, while many of the female workers walk around the office in fur slippers.

… The government has been strongly promoting a campaign to cut electricity use to preempt another outage like the one that temporary crippled businesses and households in September.

Major buildings have been told to maintain an indoor temperature of below 20 degrees Celsius from last month until the end of next February, a move that is sending chills through government agencies, educational institutes and department stores alike.

… Not everyone is suffering from the government’s campaign, however.

Online shopping malls GS Shop and d&shop said that combined sales of long underwear doubled to 16,000 units on-year from Dec.15 to Jan. 4.
(7 January 2012)
Suggested by EB contributor Etienne B.

China’s city dwellers to breathe unhealthy air ‘for another 20-30 years’

Jonathan Watts, Guardian
Millions of city dwellers in China will be breathing unhealthy air for at least another 20 years despite recent moves to tighten controls on the most harmful form of pollution, one of the country’s leading experts has warned.

The cautionary note comes at the start of a year when Beijing, Shanghai and several other Chinese metropolises will begin publicly releasing data on tiny particulates known as PM2.5, which account for more than half of the country’s air-borne contaminants and have the most damaging impact on human health.

The promise of more transparency has been welcomed as an important step towards a clear-up of the foul smogs that plague urban China, but environment officials stress that more time is needed to turn grey skies to blue.
(3 January 2012)