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Friday, 22 November, 2002, 00:48 GMT
Venezuela heads towards fresh strike
National Guardsmen disperse crowds
The capital has been gripped by opposition protests
Opposition forces in Venezuela have called a general strike for early December to press President Hugo Chavez to hold an early referendum on his rule.

The 2 December strike, if it goes ahead, will be the fourth walkout in a year against Mr Chavez, who survived a coup attempt in April.

Anti-Chavez union leader Carlos Ortega, who heads the one million member Venezuelan Workers Confederation, said the strike could be brought forward and extended indefinitely if it was deemed necessary.

Mr Ortega has the backing of the Venezuela's largest business group, Fedecamaras. Correspondents say the strike initiative has displayed rare co-operation between employers and their employees.

Last-minute appeal

Mr Chavez's opponents accuse him of mismanagement of the oil-rich nation's economy and dictatorial rule.

Hugo Chavez
Mr Chavez wants to delay the referendum till August
The capital has been rocked by protests since the president ordered the military takeover of the police at the weekend. He said it had failed to maintain order.

The opposition wants the people to vote on his controversial rule as soon as possible. But Mr Chavez insists his foes will have to wait until August next year for the referendum which could remove him from office.

The Organisation of American States, which has been struggling to promote reconciliation between the two sides, said that a strike was not the way to proceed. It warned that it could sabotage the talks to end the country's political crisis.

But Mr Ortega dismissed the last-minute appeal. "This problem concerns Venezuelans," he told a press conference announcing the strike.


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