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U.S. watching Nigerian developments

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Nigerians have the right to protest but must do so peacefully as security threats from Islamic sect Boko Haram mount, a U.S. State Department official said.

Nigerians turned out in droves to protest an end to a fuel subsidy that was in force for nearly 40 years. Labor unions called for nationwide strikes as prices for petrol at service stations reach record levels for impoverished Nigerians.

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Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said Nigerians have the right to protest peacefully.

"The Nigerian people have the right to peaceful protest, we want to see them protest peacefully, and we're also urging the Nigerian security services to respect the right of popular protest and conduct themselves professionally in dealing with the strike," Nuland told reporters during her regular news briefing.

She added this comes amid U.S. "concerns" that Boko Haram is trying to exacerbate tensions between the Christian and Muslim populations in the country.

Terrorism attacks attributed to Boko Haram have escalated since the bombing of the U.N. offices in Abuja last year. The group has set its sights on Christians in the north of the country as it seeks to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria.

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AbuBakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram, in a video statement translated by the BBC said his group is at war with Christians in Nigeria. He warned President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, that security forces wouldn't be able to defeat the Islamic group.

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