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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 00:22 GMT 01:22 UK
Venezuela strike is extended
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Chavez accuses the strikers of trying to overthrow him
Venezuela's largest labour and business confederations have announced that they will continue a 48-hour general strike indefinitely.

"We have agreed on an indefinite general strike," union leader Carlos Ortega said at the end of the two-day stoppage, which was called in support of workers and managers of the state-owned oil company PDVSA.

The opposition protest outside the offices of PDVSA in Caracas
The strike was called by the million-strong main union confederation
Venezuela is the world's fourth largest oil exporter and on Wednesday a senior PDVSA official acknowledged for the first time that its exports had been affected.

The strike could also cause more nervousness in the global oil market following Iraq's decision to suspend oil exports for 30 days.

Iraq and Venezuela jointly export about 4.5 million barrels of oil per day. Venezuela alone exports nearly one million barrels of crude oil daily to the United States.

'Explosive situation'

Mr Ortega, president of the million-member Venezuelan Workers Confederation (CVT), cited alleged "reprisals" by President Hugo Chavez's government involving some "actions in the street" during the protest.


No one stops Venezuela, especially a diminished number of oligarchs, of corrupt ones

President Chavez
Business leader Pedro Carmona said Mr Chavez had shown no will resolve the dispute at the oil company.

The strike was called last week, in support of the state oil company's workers and managers, who are protesting against the appointment of a new board by President Chavez.

Defence Minister Jose Vicente Rangel, told reporters that, beyond the social and economic justifications, the stoppage is part of a conspiracy to remove the president from power.

Before announcing the extension of the strike, Mr Ortega called on the military to compel President Chavez to cede to the workers' demands.

"In a moment of crisis, the armed forces takes the side of the people, the side of the majority," Mr Ortega told Globovision television.

"It's an explosive situation that calls for immediate action."

Earlier a leading army general, Nestor Gonzalez, called on Mr Chavez to resign - the highest ranking officer to voice his opposition to the Venezuelan leader.

Chavez lashes out

The streets were quieter than usual on Wednesday, as many Venezuelans heeded the call of union leaders not to go to work on the second day of a general strike.

A soldier guards an oil refinery
Ministers and military chiefs were sent to key oil facilities
But the strike lost some of its steam as students returned to school and more businesses opened.

The strike is seen as a powerful attack on President Chavez, who is fighting opposition to his three-year rule from hostile labour and business leaders as well as political foes.

Mr Chavez condemned the strikers in a nationally televised speech late on Tuesday night, accusing them of trying to overthrow him and cripple Venezuela.

"No one stops Venezuela, especially a diminished number of oligarchs, of corrupt ones," Mr Chavez said. "They're still trying to defend their privileges."

He accused labour, business and political leaders of trying to start a military coup.

To cheers of thousands, Mr Chavez said: "One day, I want to sheathe my sword," Mr Chavez said. "But today I draw my sword again" to defeat the conspiracy.

The action has generally been peaceful but scuffles broke out in Caracas on Tuesday and an opposition deputy was hurt.

Riot police surrounded the National Assembly to prevent trouble.

Mr Chavez's government had made efforts to avoid a repeat of a successful general strike on 10 December which led to a 20% rise in the minimum wage.

Analysis of the oil market, OPEC, and the alternatives

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Analysis

Background
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07 Apr 02 | Americas
05 Apr 02 | Business
05 Apr 02 | Business
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