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Saturday, 30 November, 2002, 04:21 GMT
Venezuelan dissident generals sacked
Opposition rally
The year's fourth general strike is planned for Monday
Fifteen senior military officers have been discharged after calling for civic disobedience against Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez.

The seven generals and eight colonels have been demanding the president resign and want general elections to be held to find a replacement.

The officers are part of a group of more than 100 dissidents who have been occupying a square in the capital, Caracas, for more than a month.

A pro-Chavez demonstrator
There are also demonstrations in favour of President Chavez' rule
The sackings came as opposition leaders continued with preparations for a national general strike on Monday which they hope will intensify pressure on Mr Chavez to submit to new elections.

The president's opponents - who include business and labour leaders as well as politicians - had wanted to hold a referendum on Mr Chavez' rule in February, but it was ruled out by Venezuela's Supreme Court.

The sacked military officers included General Luis Camacho Kairuz, who served as a security minister until a coup on 12 April which briefly ousted Mr Chavez.

'Unjustified discharges'

The defence ministry said the officers had been discharged for disciplinary reasons.

But General Kairuz' lawyer, Guillermo Heredia, said the discharges, and ongoing investigations, violated constitutional norms.

"The investigations are arbitrary," he was quoted as saying to the local Union Radio station.

"Military justice is not being followed; President Hugo Chavez asked that these generals be discharged however possible."

A soldier outside a police station in Caracas
President Chavez has sent the army to run police stations in Caracas
Since his return to power at the end of the failed coup, Mr Chavez has been faced by numerous street protests.

Opponents blame him for the country's economic troubles and say he has been abusing power by acts such as ordering a military takeover of the Caracas police department.

Monday's strike - if it goes ahead - would be the fourth walkout in a year.

It is being organised by the one million-member Venezuelan Workers Confederation and the Fedecamaras business chamber.

International concern

On Friday, the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called on Venezuela's Government and the opposition groups "to make every effort to reach a peaceful solution".

He asked the two sides to return to the negotiating table after talks being brokered by the Organization of American States stalled.

A spokesman for the US State Department, Philip Reeker, also made a plea for calm and for the sides to find "a peaceful, democratic, constitutional and electoral solution".

"We express our concern about provocative and unnecessary actions that imperil the national dialogue process," he said.

"We call on all parties to exercise responsibly their democratic rights and authority."

Mr Chavez has rejected calls for any form of referendum, at least until the midpoint of his term which will come next August.

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