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Monday, 3 February, 2003, 15:46 GMT
Venezuela reopens for business
Venezuelan bank
Banks have continued to trade throughout the strike
Venezuela's commercial banks have reopened for normal business, marking the end of their part in the two-month old strike against the government.

President Hugo Chavez claimed outright victory over right-wing business and labour groups on Sunday after they announced a return to work to protect businesses from bankruptcy.

President Hugo Chavez
Chavez triumphs over "economic coup"
Factories, shopping malls, restaurants, schools and universities have all begun reopening.

"They have the 'F' of failure on their foreheads," the democratically elected president said as he marked the fourth anniversary of his government.

He vowed that strike leaders - who he accused of staging an "economic coup" attempt - would be punished.

"They can't remain unpunished ... They must go to prison," he said.

Banking on it

The private banks, which control 90% of the financial sector, will open for eight hours a day after trading for just three or four hours daily since 10 December.

The stock exchange resumed trade last Monday and said it would peg its hours to those of the commercial banks.

A strike by some oil workers will continue according to the opposition, despite conceding that production is now more than a third of pre-strike levels.

A walkout by workers at state oil company PDVSA formed the core of the strike and shut down production.

The government has said most of the remaining 35,000 employees have returned to work after it sacked about 5,000 dissident managers and staff.

Economic fall-out

The government estimates the strike has cost the world's fifth largest oil exporter at least $4bn in revenues.

Oil makes up a third of the economy and provides half of the government's income.

The Santander Central Hispano bank has forecast the economy could contract by 40% in the first quarter of 2003 and the central bank has put annual inflation at 33.8% in January, the highest in five years.

On Saturday the opposition formally conceded the strike had ended and reverted to legal tactics to remove Mr Chavez from office and denied they had lost.

"Today demonstrates that the struggle hasn't ended," said Julio Borges of the opposition party Justice First.

"It didn't end with the strike."

They hope to raise 1.8 million signatures, or 15% of the population, for a constitutional amendment to reduce Mr Chavez's term from six to four years - paving the way for general elections later this year.

Mr Chavez was first elected in 1998, and re-elected in 2000 with 60%, promising to use oil revenues to improve conditions for the 80% of 24 million population who live in poverty.


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03 Feb 03 | Americas
02 Feb 03 | Business
30 Jan 03 | Business
28 Jan 03 | Business
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