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 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 22:43 GMT
Carter proposes Venezuela resolution
Hugo Chavez, left, accompanied by a translator, meets Jimmy Carter, right
Chavez has stood firm over demands for fresh elections
A new plan aimed at resolving the political tug-of-war currently gripping Venezuela has been proposed by former US President Jimmy Carter.

The plan suggests two alternatives, which would both work toward allowing Venezuelan electors another opportunity to approve or reject President Hugo Chavez at the ballot box, but would both require months to organise.

Woman waits in queue for gasoline
The strike has centred on oil and petrol output
A strike called by opponents of President Hugo Chavez on 2 December has resulted in severe cuts in oil production by the world's fifth-largest exporter, with consequential shortages in gasoline and some food products.

Mr Chavez said he would be willing to accept either proposal, but our correspondent in the capital Caracas, Adam Easton, says his opponents are more cautious, arguing that Mr Chavez is damaging the economy so much that earlier elections are needed.

At least six people have been killed and dozens injured in street clashes since the stand-off began.

Constitutional change?

The plans proposed by Mr Carter - who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for international efforts for peace - follow two months of failed negotiations brokered by Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organisation of American States.

The two alternatives Mr Carter suggests are:

  • to allow the country to vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow early elections, cutting the presidential term from the current six years
  • to wait until August - half-way through Mr Chavez's mandated office - when the constitution allows for a binding referendum on the president's mandate

In return, the opposition would agree to call off the strike, which has pushed up oil prices and sent the Venezuelan currency, the bolivar, tumbling against the US dollar.

"My opinion is that both sides now want to reach an agreement to end the impasse that is threatening to destroy Venezuela's economy and social structure," Mr Carter told a news conference before flying back to the US.

'No problem'

Mr Carter said he would present his proposals to the first meeting of foreign ministers from six nations comprising the "Group of Friends" who aim to help resolve the crisis - the US, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Spain and Portugal.

Soldiers guard RCTV TV and radio company in Caracas from protesters
Media companies have been accused of biased, anti-Chavez reporting
Mr Chavez told journalists that, if the Venezuelan people were to vote to amend the constitution to shorten the presidential term, "then I have no problem, because that is the will of the people", AFP reported.

"If, for example, the opposition wants to shorten the presidential term from six years to four years, or to five or three, it's all right for them to try it," he said.

However, Mr Chavez continued to reject the possibility of a nonbinding referendum on 2 February - which the National Elections Council agreed to organise after receiving an opposition petition - saying it would be both unconstitutional and impossible to organise in time.

His government has won three elections and two referendums since 1998, and his supporters - many from the shanty towns in the hills around Caracas - played a large part in ensuring an attempted coup last April was defeated.

  The BBC's Adam Easton reports from Caracas
"International pressure to resolve the deadlock is increasing"

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See also:

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