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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 18:00 GMT
Chavez unmoved as officers desert
Anti-Chavez demonstrators
Opponents accuse Chavez of being autocratic
Venezuela's strongman President, Hugo Chavez, has played down mounting resistance to his rule after the resignation of senior army officers.

Speaking as a day of mass street demonstrations looms, he said he was sure his supporters would prevail and said there was "zero" risk of a military coup.

Our loyalty is to the nation, not with the current administration

General Roman Gomez

A fourth senior officer has now resigned, calling on the leftist president to quit.

Unrest has also spread to the country's crucial energy industry with open conflict over the management of the state oil company.

Labour leaders plan a march through the capital, Caracas, on Wednesday, the 13th anniversary of riots by the city's slum-dwellers in which security forces reportedly killed hundreds of people.

President Hugo Chavez surrounded by supporters in downtown Caracas
Chavez, a former paratrooper, led a failed coup attempt himself in 1992

Two massive rival demonstrations are expected in the city.

Mr Chavez told Spanish TV he had "no worries" about the march and predicted that supporters of his own "revolution" would outnumber the opposition at least three to one.

In an interview for France's Le Monde newspaper, the Venezuelan president said there was no chance of a coup and dismissed the recent resignation of four officers as a media event.

"The media are staging a show with disgruntled officers for personal reasons," he said.

'Split society'

As the BBC's Adam Easton reports, Mr Chavez's popularity has dropped sharply in recent months, amid mounting domestic and foreign criticism over his three-year administration.

Officers quit
25 February: Brigadier-General Roman Gomez brands him a failure
18 February: Vice-Admiral Carlos Molina Tamayo accuses him of harming national interests
8 February: Captain Pedro Flores labels him undemocratic
7 February: Colonel Pedro Sota calls him a tyrant

Air Force Brigadier-General Roman Gomez was the fourth officer to resign in two weeks when he announced his departure on Monday.

He accused the president of driving a wedge between Venezuelans with his leftist policies and confrontational leadership style.

"There is a crisis in every sector of power ... they want to split us into two groups, which is a terrible thing, and this division has been carried into the armed forces as well," he said on Tuesday.

Brigadier-General Roman Gomez
Gomez: fourth officer to resign in two weeks

Mr Chavez should assume the consequences of his failure and step down to prevent any further damage, General Gomez added.

"Our loyalty is to the nation, not with the current administration," he warned.

But the military high command has so far publicly backed its commander-in-chief, our correspondent says.

Oil revolt

But the president's economic policies are creating new opposition in the country, with even his own party members asking him to change his economic team after a currency devaluation fuelled fears of rising inflation.

More than 3,000 employees at the state oil giant PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela) took out full-page advertisements in leading newspapers on Tuesday to protest at government plans to change its management.

The employees are rallying around 34 executives at the company who accuse Mr Chavez of seeking to take control.

"We are a single voice which says 'No' to the politicisation of PDVSA," said one advert.

Oil is vital to the economy of Venezuela which has one of the world's largest deposits.

See also:

18 Feb 02 | Americas
Third officer demands Chavez quit
11 Feb 02 | Americas
Venezuelan rebel army officers freed
08 Feb 02 | Americas
Venezuelans march against president
04 Feb 02 | Americas
Chavez marks his failed coup
24 Jan 02 | Americas
Rival marches in Venezuelan capital
16 Dec 01 | Americas
Chavez warns Venezuela banks
13 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Venezuela
21 Feb 02 | Americas
Timeline: Venezuela
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