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 Sunday, 19 January, 2003, 05:29 GMT
Chavez warns of more food seizures
Protesters hold candlelight march in Caracas
Protests and strikes have crippled the economy
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has warned that the military will continue to seize food and drinks from warehouses to alleviate shortages caused by a seven-week nationwide stoppage

He also said he was taking legal steps against banks and parts of the media to break the strike.

We're tired of so much abuse of power

Demonstrator
As the protests continued, more than 100,000 people took to the streets of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, on Saturday night in support of the action which has crippled the country's economy.

On Friday, Mr Chavez ordered troops to take over privately-owned bottling plants and distribute the goods to the public.

The president, meanwhile, said the government might withdraw from mediated talks with opposition leaders aimed at trying to resolve the crisis peacefully.

Talks warning

Traffic ground to a halt as anti-government protesters - waving flags and holding torches - marched down a highway in Caracas.

"We don't want this totalitarian regime that the president wants to impose," said 25-year-old Carolina Serrano.

"We're tired of so much abuse of power," she said.

The protesters are demanding that Mr Chavez resign and hold early elections.

But the president has insisted he will not quit before a referendum on his rule on 19 August.

Mr Chavez said the government might pull out of negotiations which have been going on since last November if the demonstrations continue.

"If we decide to leave the table it's because those people [opposition] don't show demonstrations of wanting to take the democratic path," he told the state-run Venpres news agency.

Food seized

The president said he had ordered all garrison commanders across the country to take control of sites where food or drinks were being withheld from sale in the shops.

Bottles outside a plant seized by government troops
Chavez accused the plants of hoarding food and drinks

He accused the striking food manufacturers of violating basic laws by denying Venezuelans food and drink.

On Friday, soldiers confiscated food and drink from Venezuela's largest food company, Empresas Polar, and the Panamco drinks company, in Valencia.

"We've put up with too much," Mr Chavez said in a televised speech.

He said he had also ordered "legal proceedings to begin against the bank... and the media".

The opposition led media has broadcast anti-Chavez messages around the clock, while the banks have restricted their opening hours.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Richard Forrest
"Venezuela's economy's in serious trouble"

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18 Jan 03 | Americas
16 Jan 03 | Business
16 Jan 03 | Americas
04 Jan 03 | Americas
03 Jan 03 | Americas
05 Dec 02 | Americas
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