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Attacks threaten to cut Nigeria oil exports by 1m barrels a day

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Militants threatened more attacks on Nigeria's oil facilities and vowed yesterday to cut daily oil exports by 1 million barrels, adding to concerns for OPEC as it prepares for a strategy meeting this week.

Oil is already more $60 a barrel, and the markets are nervous about potential disruptions to the supply from this OPEC member, which is Africa's largest producer of crude oil.

A.F. Alhajji, an energy analyst in the United States, said the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is unlikely to trim the cartel's overall output when it meets Wednesday because of worries about unrest in Nigeria's oil region and Iraq's production.

In attacks on Nigerian pipelines and oil facilities, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has reduced the country's production by 455,000 barrels a day. Nigeria normally exports 2.5 million barrels daily.

''Our target for the month of March is a further cut of 1 million barrels," the insurgent group said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

The group claims to be fighting for the interests of Niger Delta's people, who remain impoverished while the Nigerian government benefits from the region's oil wealth. The group threatens to escalate the conflict by attacking international oil tankers in Nigerian waters.

Attacks since January have helped push edgy oil prices higher on international markets. In its last attack, on Feb. 20, the militants destroyed a Shell-operated pipeline.

However, a warmer-than-usual winter in the United States, the world's largest consumer, has helped ease some of that pressure on prices.

On Wednesday, OPEC's 12 nations will set production targets for the spring.

Rafael Ramirez, Venezuela's oil minister, is urging production cuts in anticipation of lesser demand. But analysts are betting the cartel will keep total output unchanged because of concerns about rising gasoline prices, Nigeria's instability, and threats to Middle Eastern pipelines.

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