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Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 15:47 GMT
Government shrugs off Venezuela strike
Venezuelans queue for fuel
People have been stocking up on essentials
A general strike in Venezuela has entered its 10th day, with the government of President Hugo Chavez insisting the stoppage is having no impact on everyday life.

Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel told the BBC the strike was mainly taking place on television screens, and that in reality services were running normally.

Mr Chavez is a left-over Communist who wants to destroy his country

Gualterio Bamberg, Caracas, Venezuela

Mr Rangel's comments came, however, as oil production plummeted to a quarter of its normal levels in the world's fifth-biggest producer, and people started panic-buying, fearing the situation would deteriorate.

Talks between the government and the opposition - which wants a date for a referendum on Mr Chavez's rule - are due to resume, mediated by the Organisation of American States (OAS).

'No impact'

On Wednesday, government troops stormed an oil tanker which had joined the strike - the second of a number that are participating in the opposition-led stoppage.

"They [the troops] climbed up on ropes and aimed their pistols at the sailors on the bridge, who had to lie down on the floor," the tanker's chief engineer Cesar Franco told local radio by telephone.

But beyond arresting the captain, the troops could not force the crew to co-operate and move the Yavire tanker, Reuters news agency reported.

Reception area of a local television news station
Some media outlets have been trashed by Chavez supporters
In his interview with the BBC, Mr Chavez's deputy dismissed the general strike, saying even oil production and exports were re-starting.

But Health Minister Maria Urbaneja sounded more conciliatory.

"Let's both give in," she said in an interview with Globovision television.

She said the government was ready to discuss a date for elections on Mr Chavez's rule - if the opposition ended the strike first, the Associated Press news agency reported.

"With violence there is no possibility of dialogue toward peace," Ms Urbaneja was quoted as saying.

OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria, who is mediating the talks, said there had been no progress on Tuesday, with both sides only agreeing to meet again on Wednesday.

Heavy losses

The head of the state oil company PDVSA, Ali Rodriguez, announced on Tuesday that the country's largest refinery, Paraguana, had shut down.

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Click above to see Venezuela's oil export terminals

Paraguana normally processes three-quarters of the country's oil.

Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said that the country was losing $50m a day in oil exports.

But the opposition Democratic Co-ordinating Board said the strike would continue "ever stronger and fearless".

For the second day running, long queues formed outside banks as some people rushed to withdraw cash, whilst others went panic-buying at petrol stations and supermarkets.

Mark Weisbrot, international economics analyst
"There are millions of people who do not want Chavez to step down"

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See also:

11 Dec 02 | Americas
10 Dec 02 | Americas
10 Dec 02 | Americas
03 Dec 02 | Media reports
29 Nov 02 | Americas
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