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Monday, 3 February, 2003, 16:06 GMT
Venezuela re-opens after strike
Cristobal Abreu, left, signs a petition as his son Jesus, 2, looks on in Caracas, Venezuela
People flocked to sign the anti-government petition
Factories, shops and universities in Venezuela have re-opened after opponents of President Hugo Chavez decided to scale back a 63-day strike which has crippled the economy.

The opposition insists the move does not represent an end of efforts to oust Mr Chavez, but marks a "new phase" in their campaign against the president, whom they accuse of authoritarianism and economic mismanagement.

On Sunday, more than four million opponents of Mr Chavez signed a petition calling for early elections, according to opposition leader Albis Munoz.

Under the country's constitution, such a request can be made if petitioners secure the signatures of 15% of Venezuela's registered voters - approximately 1.8 million people.

Mr Munoz, who is the vice-president of Venezuela's largest business chamber, says the number of signatures amounts to more votes than the president received when he was elected in 1998.

Faltering support

President Chavez has meanwhile proclaimed victory over the participants of the nine-week strike.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gestures during in his weekly TV and radio program at Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, Venezuela
Mr Chavez refuses to step down

Correspondents say that while Venezuela's middle-class want him stripped of office as soon as possible, the president still commands significant support among the urban poor.

The strikes, which began on 2 December, have forced Venezuelans to queue for cash, food and gas, and sparked angry protests in which at least seven people have been killed.

Observers also say that the strike had pushed some companies to the brink of bankruptcy, forcing them to re-open.

Oil issue

However the return to work will not include thousands of oil workers who have decided to continue their strike until Mr Chavez calls elections.

World crude oil prices have spiralled to two-year highs since the strike began in the world's fifth largest oil exporting country.

However Mr Chavez claimed oil production was rising to about two-thirds of pre-strike levels, and oil workers, though estimating output at lower than that, acknowledged it was rising.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Forrest
"Strike leaders say that businesses will be allowed to open for a number of hours each day"
Richard Gott, Latin American analyst
"The strike is effectively over"

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03 Feb 03 | Americas
03 Feb 03 | Business
30 Jan 03 | Business
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