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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 04:48 GMT
Venezuelans pledge indefinite strike
A solider guards an empty petrol station
Many petrol stations have already run out of supplies
Opposition leaders in Venezuela have vowed to continue indefinitely a general strike against President Hugo Chavez, which has begun to badly disrupt the country's vital oil industry.

With no end in sight to the strike, Mr Chavez stepped up his rhetoric against the opposition on Sunday, accusing them of trying to force him from power unconstitutionally.


If there really was an intent to stage a coup in this crisis, there already would have been a military solution

Carlos Ortega, trade union leader
Mr Chavez has ordered troops to be deployed at petrol stations to ensure fuel supplies, and there are reports that petrol distribution centres have also been commandeered.

The president has warned that he may declare a state of emergency if the disruption continues to escalate.

Defiant opposition leaders have called for more workers to join the strike - a call most recently answered by the country's domestic airlines pilots and workers in the countries largest aluminium plant.

Mounting pressure

"The people... will now continue with more strength this active, national and unstoppable strike," said Carlos Ortega, leader of the Venezuelan Workers Federation, the country's largest trade union said.

President Hugo Chavez
Chavez is determined to remain in office

"The people are demonstrating in the streets their unshakable determination to end this nightmare called Chavez," Mr Ortega added.

The strike was called by opposition groups to put pressure on Mr Chavez to accept a referendum on holding new elections.

'Terrorist plan'

Earlier during his weekly Alo Presidente television programme Mr Chavez launched into a lengthy diatribe in which he dubbed the opposition "coup-mongers".

He said they wanted to topple the legitimate government of Venezuela, describing it as a "terrorist plan".

Mr Ortega rejected the accusation saying:

Enlarge image
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Click above to see Venezuela's oil export terminals

"If there really was an intent to stage a coup in this crisis, there already would have been a military solution. We are following the democratic route."

Mr Chavez also accused the opposition of trying to sabotage the oil industry, saying that they, along with foreign supporters wanted to seize control of PDVSA, the state oil company.

"They won't stop the oil company, they won't rob Venezuela of its happiness," he shouted, grabbing a plastic model of the baby Jesus from a crib on his desk and kissing it.

Fuel crisis

Striking oil executives say that production, normally three-million barrels a day, is down by as much as 90%.

The government admits the stoppage has affected output but has not said by how much.


I'm stocking up on food. It's getting ugly

The BBC's Nick Miles in Caracas says many petrol stations around the country are running out of supplies and on Sunday National Guard troops were sent to key petrol stations to ensure deliveries got through.

There are unconfirmed reports that three petrol distribution centres have been commandeered by the government, with the drivers of private petrol trucks being replaced by government employees.

Meanwhile, a number of striking oil tankers remain anchored in Lake Maracaibo, in the west of the country. Attempts to replace the crews appear to have stalled.

With the crisis showing no signs of abating there has been panic buying in grocery stores, with supplies of perishable goods running low.

"I'm stocking up on food. It's getting ugly," said Ana Mendez, 56, a housewife as she queued in a shop.

And long lines of drivers have been waiting outside petrol stations to fill up their cars ahead of a possible crippling fuel shortage.


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03 Dec 02 | Media reports
29 Nov 02 | Americas
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