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 Saturday, 21 December, 2002, 00:01 GMT
Venezuela strikers defy court ruling
Anti-Chavez demonstrators with a fake TV screen where it is written: This is Venezuela
The mood was relaxed amongst anti-Chavez protesters
Thousands of Venezuelans have defied a Supreme Court order and taken to the streets of the capital, Caracas, to force the resignation of President Hugo Chavez.

Dressed in the national colours and chanting: "Not one step back!" the protesters vowed to continue their 19-day stoppage that has paralysed the oil industry.

President Chavez wipes his face after a meeting with supporters on Wednesday
The oil belongs to the people - Chavez is a beautiful president

Orlando Colmenaras
Farmer
Supporters of Mr Chavez also took to the streets with posters reading: "Chavez drives them crazy!"

On Thursday, the court ordered the immediate reopening of the state-owned oil company (PDVSA).

Venezuela is the world's fifth largest oil exporter - but the stoppage has virtually halted exports and strangled domestic oil supplies.

Business and union leaders have insisted their protest will continue until Mr Chavez quits or calls early elections.

Venezuelan Interior Minister Diosdado Cabello has put losses in the country's oil sector at $40m a day, and the stoppage has also pushed up the price of oil on the international market.

Pins and headbands

Women in bikini tops with the colours of the Venezuelan flag danced to salsa music as the anti-Chavez march streamed along a main highway.

Some protesters carried a huge effigy of a shaggy gorilla with the words "I'm Chavez" on its forehead. The effigy also carried a banner that read "I'm deaf, dumb and blind".

Badges carrying the slogan "I helped oust Chavez" sold out quickly among the crowd.

Chavez supporters
Chavez supporters are equally defiant
In the government camp, "Chavez is driving them crazy" headbands were best sellers, the AFP news agency reported.

At PDVSA headquarters in Caracas, Chavez sympathisers chanted: "Long Live Chavez".

"The oil belongs to the people. Chavez is a beautiful president," farmer Orlando Colmenaras told Reuters news agency.

Rebel PDVSA employees voted to continue the strike.

"The situation is the same - the whole thing is shut down," PDVSA Vice-President Jorge Kamkoff told Reuters.

He said that oil output - cut to less than 10% of normal - continued to slide. Nearly 40 oil tankers remained anchored off ports.

Venezuela's oil shortages have now reached a critical stage.

Mr Chavez's opponents accuse him of economic mismanagement and authoritarian rule - allegations Mr Chavez vigorously denies.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Andrew Webb
"The marchers far outweigh those backing the president"

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19 Dec 02 | Americas
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