In Nigeria, Oil Company's Office Hit by Abductions of Workers

LAGOS, Nigeria (AFX) - Gunmen stormed the local offices of a major Chinese oil company in southern Nigeria on Thursday, abducting seven Chinese employees and stealing a large amount of cash, police said.

One of the assailants died in the raid on the finance offices of the government-owned Chinese National Petroleum Co. in the Nigerian state of Bayelsa, state police Commissioner Hafiz Ringim said. Two Chinese employees escaped the attack, Ringim said.

In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it is looking into the attack. Company officials could not be reached for comment.

Some 100 hostages have been seized in a year of increased violence in Nigeria, the largest producer of oil in Africa and a major exporter to the U.S. Hostages are generally released unharmed after a ransom is paid, although casualties have occurred during gunbattles between the attackers and security forces.

Despite the vast energy stores lying beneath southern Nigeria's soil, the region's people remain desperately poor. Many blame their plight on corruption and mismanagement by the federal government.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which seeks greater control of oil revenues and the release of two regional leaders imprisoned on corruption or treason charges, have launched many of the raids and abductions. The violence has cut Nigeria's usual 2.5 million barrel per day crude production by nearly a quarter.

But most of the kidnappings in recent weeks haven't been claimed by the group, which said it was not behind Thursday's attack. Along with the Chinese, about two dozen Filipinos, two Italians, one Briton, one American and a Lebanese are being held.

China is boosting ties in Nigeria and across Africa, seeking to secure energy and other resources for its booming economy.

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