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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 November 2006, 04:48 GMT
Storm over Venezuela oil speech
Rafael Ramirez, head of PDVSA and energy minister (file photo)
Rafael Ramirez said he had not broken election rules
Venezuela's energy minister has caused a political storm by telling state oil workers to back President Hugo Chavez or leave their jobs.

The opposition released an amateur video of Rafael Ramirez, also head of the state oil company PDVSA, making the remarks to top executives.

The opposition says the government is illegally mobilising workers to secure Mr Chavez's re-election on 3 December.

Mr Chavez defended Mr Ramirez and said workers should back the "revolution".

The president, a key critic of the United States who is widely expected to win the election, said: "Of course PDVSA is revolutionary.

"[Its] workers are with this revolution, and those who aren't should go somewhere else. Go to Miami."

Mr Chavez applauded his minister's words by saying he should make the same speech to oil workers 100 times a day.

Investigation

The video was presented by supporters of the main opposition candidate, Manuel Rosales.

Here, we are backing Chavez, who is our leader, who is the leader of this revolution, and we will do everything we have to do to support out president
Rafael Ramirez

Opposition media outlets have been repeating the 14-minute video over and over again.

It shows Mr Ramirez standing at a podium and addressing a crowd of managers.

He can be heard saying that the state oil company is "red from top to bottom" - in reference to the colour red used by President Chavez's supporters.

"Here, we are backing Chavez, who is our leader, who is the leader of this revolution, and we will do everything we have to do to support our president," Mr Ramirez adds.

"Those who do not feel comfortable with that orientation, should give their jobs to a Bolivarian [a Chavez supporter]."

At least 18,000 PDVSA employees were sacked in 2003 after bringing the country to a standstill with a two-month long strike.

Mr Rosales's campaign team says election rules prohibit the use of PDSVA and other state-run organisations for election purposes.

The team has demanded an investigation.

Mr Ramirez denied he had broken campaign rules and said other videos would be released to remove doubts.


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