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Sunday, 9 February, 2003, 00:58 GMT
Venezuela opposition defies Chavez
Oil-workers on the march
The opposition says many oil-workers are still on strike
More than 100,000 people have marched through the capital, Caracas, to protest against the policies of President Hugo Chavez.

Blowing whistles and banging drums, protesters took to the streets to show solidarity with the 9,000 workers who were sacked from the state-owned oil company PDVSA during the strike.

We're convinced that the oil industry cannot work without us

Reinaldo Michelena, sacked oil worker
The latest rally comes only days after President Chavez declared a two-month long anti-government strike defeated.

The strike aimed at ousting the oil-rich country's president has weakened since it began on 2 December - but PDVSA strikers said on Saturday that their action could still bring down the government.

"We're convinced that the oil industry cannot work without us," Reinaldo Michelena, one of those sacked, told Reuters news agency.

"We'll keep on with this strike because the only way to get rid of this government is hitting at the economy."

Marching under the national flag, protesters chanted "Chavez, you're a thief! PDVSA is not yours, it's everyone's!"

Currency controls

Mr Chavez, in office since 1998, faces a broad alliance of political parties, unions and private businesses who accuse him of authoritarianism and mismanaging the economy.

Strike crisis
The march through Caracas
At least seven people killed in strike-related violence
Oil exports still a fraction of the pre-strike volume
Has cost the government at least $4bn
Having fired the PDVSA strikers and restructured the company, he is resisting calls for fresh elections and refuses to amnesty the strikers whom he brands as "terrorists".

He says that most of PDVSA's 40,000 employees have returned to work.

But the opposition denies this - they say thousands are still on strike in support of their sacked colleagues.

The strike has battered Venezuela's economy, slashing its vital crude oil exports and causing severe domestic fuel shortages.

The president has brought in tight foreign exchange curbs and price controls to shore up reserves and the national currency, the bolivar.

Oil squeeze

Announcing the controls on television this week, he waved a copy of Venezuela's penal code at viewers and accused opposition leaders of planning to take hard currency out of the country.

Hugo Chavez on TV with portrait of Simon Bolivar in the background
Chavez describes his opponents as "coup-mongers" and "terrorists"

"They wanted to leave us without dollars, so we took away the key," he said.

Mr Chavez - a former paratrooper and coup-leader - models himself on 19th Century Venezuelan nationalist hero Simon Bolivar and counts Cuban leader Fidel Castro among his friends.

He maintains a base of support among Venezuela's poor but has antagonised nearly every other stratum of society.

Government claims that oil output has now reached nearly 2 million barrels a day and exports are at 700,000 barrels per day have been challenged by the opposition.

They estimate that output is still at a third of the 3.1 million barrels Venezuela produced in November before the strike. Average exports then were about 2.7 million barrels a day.

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03 Feb 03 | Americas
04 Feb 03 | Americas
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