Reuters International

Motorists queue to buy petrol at a fuel station in Ahaoda in Nigeria's oil state in the Delta region, December 6, 2012. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye/File Photo

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By Camillus Eboh

ABUJA (Reuters) - A Nigerian labour union representing millions of workers said on Tuesday that it would stage an indefinite general strike to protest government plans to increase petrol prices by up to 67 percent, despite a court ruling against the action.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and another union announced last week that they would strike from Wednesday unless the government reversed its decision to scrap a costly fuel subsidy scheme and raise gasoline prices.

Ministers hope the move will help tackle the worst economic crisis in decades in Africa's biggest oil producer, brought on by the fall in crude prices, and fund fuel imports needed because Nigeria's refineries have been neglected for years.

The NLC said it would stage a strike starting at midnight (2300 GMT, Tuesday), despite a ruling by the Nigerian Industrial Court just hours earlier that the strike action should not go ahead because of the risk of civil disorder.

"The government was not ready to accede to our demands, so we walked out of the meeting," Chris Uyot, deputy general secretary of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), told Reuters.

Talks between the government, NLC and the other union that previously threatened to strike - the Trade Union Congress (TUC) - broke down late on Tuesday. The TUC said it would not join the strike.

The government issued a statement in which it said the NLC's decision was regrettable in light of the court's decision.

"Government, therefore, calls upon and advises all workers to respect the laws of the land and to desist from participating in an illegal strike action," said David Babachir Lawal, a government secretary.

Acts of intimidation and harassment, including "preventing workers from carrying out their lawful duties" would be "met with appropriate response by the law enforcement agencies," he said, adding that any civil servants who took part would not be paid.

A fall in oil prices has eaten into the foreign reserves of Nigeria, which relies on crude sales for around 70 percent of national income. The central bank has adopted a fixed exchange rate to protect further depletion of reserves.

On Tuesday, the vice president said President Muhammadu Buhari had been "left with no choice" but to raise prices. "What can we do if we don't have foreign currency? We have to import fuel," said Yemi Osinbajo.

Nigeria tried to end fuel subsidies in 2012, doubling the price of gasoline overnight, but later reinstated some of the subsidy to end a wave of protest strikes held in defiance of another court ruling.

(Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by David Goodman)

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