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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Militants stage car bombing of Nigerian govt HQ

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, Dec 23 (Reuters) - A car bomb exploded outside the headquarters of Rivers State government in Nigeria's oil capital Port Harcourt on Saturday, but no one was killed, officials said.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), fighting for regional autonomy of Nigeria's oil producing south, claimed responsibility. It said a second explosive device malfunctioned and was retrieved by its fighters.

"There was an explosion near government house Port Harcourt. It was very serious," said state government spokesman Blessing Nwikina.

Police said no one was killed.

Mangled, scorched pieces of a car were strewn across an access road to the newly built government headquarters. Broken shards of multicoloured glass from Christmas decorations on street lamps were also scattered around.

At another government building across the road, shutters were shattered and metal debris from the vehicle was hanging on a wire perimeter fence.

Police officers and a bomb disposal unit were at the scene.

"If this had occurred on a working day it would have been more devastating. Government should find a better way of addressing the agitation of the Niger Delta people," said a police officer at the scene, asking not to be named.

MEND had issued a warning of the car bombs to the media shortly before the blasts.

In a subsequent email, the faceless group threatened to attack politicians from the delta, including Minister of State for Petroleum Edmund Daukoru who holds the presidency of OPEC, accusing them of sabotaging their campaign for "resource control" for selfish reasons.


Attacks on oil facilities and kidnappings of foreign workers have become almost weekly occurrences in the world's eighth largest oil exporter. A series of raids by the MEND in February forced Royal Dutch Shell to pull hundreds of workers out of the western delta and cut Nigerian oil output by a fifth.

Two car bombings by MEND at oil company compounds in Port Harcourt on Monday prompted two European oil companies to evacuate hundreds of dependents of staff from the region.

The MEND is also holding three Italians and one Lebanese oil workers hostage after a raid on an Italian-run oil export terminal at Brass in Bayelsa state on Dec. 7.

Other armed groups are holding 18 Nigerian employees of Italian oil company Agip hostage at one of its oilfields in neighbouring Bayelsa state, while five Shell workers are being held at another Bayelsa-based facility.

MEND has demanded greater regional control over the delta's oil resources, the release of two jailed leaders from the region and compensation to villages for oil pollution.

It has vowed to bring all the OPEC member nation's exports to a halt.

Decades-old militancy in the delta is rooted in poverty and neglect by the government, which has failed to convert the region's resource wealth into jobs and development.

Much of the vast region of mangrove-lined creeks and swamps is accessible only by boat and many inhabitants have seen little benefits from an industry that has polluted their environment.

Oil executives had expected violence to escalate in the run-up to elections next April, because polls often reignite long-standing rivalries between clans and militias which are exploited by local politicians.

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