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Thursday, September 9, 1999 Published at 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK

World: Africa

Fatal clashes at Lagos port

By BBC Lagos correspondent, Barnaby Phillips

The port in Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, has been paralysed following clashes between rival gangs that have left several people killed or injured.

The Lagos port - the most important in Nigeria - has been sealed off by heavily-armed riot police, who fired teargas and shots in the air to disperse crowds of dock workers.

The exact origins of the violence remain confused, but trade union officials blamed an armed gang of outside workers who invaded the port during the early hours of the morning.

A police officer said ten people had been arrested.

The Lagos port, which sprawls over an area of several square kilometres, has been at a standstill for much of Thursday.

Burning corpses

Riot police have prevented thousands of workers from entering. At one gate on the Tin Can Island, three corpses lay burning and abandoned by the roadside.

Workers said that at least ten people had been killed, but this was impossible to verify.

Vehicles ferried the injured out from the docks.

There are contradictory reports as to how the violence started, but competition for scarce employment in the port appears to be at the root of the problem.

Vital to economy

Police said that members of an extremist organization from the Yoruba ethnic group, known as the Odua People's Congress, were also involved.

Relations between the Odua People's Congress and the police in Lagos are very bad, and the police often blame them for civil disturbances.

The Lagos port is of vital economic importance to Nigeria's import-dependent economy.

It serves not only one of the largest cities in Africa but also a hinterland containing tens of millions of people.

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