Community leaders and activists in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta voiced support for a new group of violent militants, saying their demands for a greater share of oil wealth match the aspirations of local people.

At a stakeholders' meeting held Thursday in the southern town of Warri, community leaders accused the Nigerian government of a heavy-handed military campaign and warned of continuing attacks that have already cut Nigeria's production by more than 40 percent, causing the West African nation to lose its place as the biggest producer on the continent to Angola.

A bomb attack Thursday forced U.S.-based oil major Chevron to halt all onshore activities at its 160,000-barrel -a-day Escravos export terminal.

In a surprise development, civilian leaders sided with the attackers, calling them "armed agitators protesting failed government policies."