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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 23:47 GMT
Venezuela signs non-violence pact
Venezuelans gathering to pray for peace in Caracas, Venezuela, 16 Feb. 2003
The country remains bitterly divided
Venezuela's government and opposition have signed a non-violence pact aimed at defusing tensions between them, the Organisation of American States (OAS) has said.

We hope to bring about a climate of understanding between all Venezuelans with this declaration

Cesar Gaviria, OAS Secretary General
The signing was the first concrete step in three months of talks, said OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria.

Mr Gaviria has been heading negotiations, backed by a six-nation group led by the US.

Analysts say the document is a confidence-building measure that does not carry any sanctions.

The opposition wants President Hugo Chavez to stand down and call a referendum on his rule.

But the president, who was re-elected in 2000, has refused to consider a vote before August.

"We hope to bring about a climate of understanding between all Venezuelans with this declaration," said Mr Gaviria.

Language please!

The seven-point declaration signed on Tuesday rejected "verbal intemperance, mutual recrimination, verbal attacks and any rhetoric aimed a confrontation."

It called on all political and social factions to "create a climate of peace and calm in the country".

Mr Chavez has described his opponents as "squalid ones" or "fascist coup-plotters", while his opponents call him a "tyrant". One of the aims of the pact is to tone down such language.

Opposition leader Timoteo Zambrana told the BBC he hoped the statement would help reduce tensions in Venezuela.

An ongoing national strike and a wave of demonstrations by both government and opposition supporters have paralysed much of the country and led to the deaths of at least six people this year.

Mr Chavez has used troops and replacement crews to restart the vital oil sector - although many sacked oil workers have vowed to keep their protest.

The opposition accuses the president of being too authoritarian and blames him for the country's economic woes.

See also:

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