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 Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 02:06 GMT
Diplomatic push for Venezuela solution
A Venezuelan boy queuing for gas
Venezuelans now have to queue days for gas
The United States is joining a diplomatic initiative involving five other countries to find a solution to Venezuela's seven-week political and economic crisis.

Along with Brazil, Chile, Spain, Mexico and Portugal, it has set up a group called "Friends of Venezuela" to help end the country's escalating chaos.

The group will develop a proposal for early elections and back existing negotiations sponsored by the Organization of American States (OAS).
President Hugo Chavez
US-Venezuelan relations soured following a failed coup against Chavez

A 46-day general strike called by opponents of President Hugo Chavez seeking his resignation is threatening the country's crucial oil industry.

But our correspondent says although the country is heading towards economic collapse, Mr Chavez is refusing to give in to the opposition's demands.

A new wave of demonstrations this week involving tens of thousands of people led the president to say he would fire or jail striking teachers and take over banks if they remain closed.

Until now the US has been reluctant to get too involved in Venezuela's political turmoil.

US embarrassment

In April last year the Bush administration had its fingers burned when it appeared to accept what turned out to be a short-lived coup against President Chavez.

The coup failed, and relations between Mr Chavez and Washington - which were uncomfortable at the best of times - never recovered.

But Venezuela is becoming hard to ignore.

It is the largest foreign oil supplier to the US, and the bitter hostility between government and opposition supporters has led to talk of civil war.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Matt Frei
"It's day 34 of a general strike that is crippling the country"

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09 Jan 03 | Business
07 Jan 03 | Business
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