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|Venezuela's Chavez, Oil, Strike|
|12/16/02 at 11:02:01|
|Venezuela's Chavez Fights Strike and US Call for Early Elections|
By Ibon Villelabeitia
CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Monday fought back against an opposition strike that has crippled the nation's oil industry, using troops to unblock gasoline supplies and oil shipments and importing fuel and food to offset shortages.
In a move decried by Chavez's foes as piracy, troops armed with assault rifles on Sunday seized the Pilin Leon oil tanker in western Lake Maracaibo and arrested the striking crew in the leftist leader's latest attempt to regain control of oil shipments in the world's No. 5 oil exporter.
Peace talks between the government and opposition, brokered by Organization of American States Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria, were scheduled to resume on Monday.
Chavez, a pugnacious former paratrooper who was elected in 1998 and survived a brief coup in April, has ignored calls to resign. Opponents accuse him of ruining the economy and of dragging Venezuela toward a Cuban-styled communism.
Chavez has vowed to hold on to his rule, which is due to end in early 2007.
In an interview with four U.S. newspapers published by the Washington Post on Monday, Chavez said he would consider resigning only if violence and economic turmoil made Venezuela ungovernable but said the worst of the 14-day strike had passed.
"If I realize that I have failed, the president could resign, but not if they put a gun to my head," Chavez was quoted as saying. "A week or two ago they were driving us toward that scenario (of being ungovernable) and you could say that the country got closer to that scenario.
"But I can say today, responsibly, that we are moving away from that scenario, recovering ground," he added.
GASOLINE, MILK AND RICE IMPORTED
Moving to counter growing fears of shortages caused by the two-week-old strike, the president said on Sunday he had ordered the import of gasoline, milk and rice from abroad, adding the country could use its foreign currency reserves.
Reacting angrily to the army takeover of the Pilin Leon, opposition leaders accused Chavez of being a dictator and of implementing a de facto state of emergency.
"You have illegally and unconstitutionally militarized PDVSA. You are not a democrat; you are a dictator," anti-Chavez business chief Carlos Fernandez said at a meeting with reporters late on Sunday. He said the strike, now in its 15th day, would continue.
The stoppage -- which has slashed Venezuela's oil output to less than a third and virtually paralyzed oil exports -- including shipments to the United States -- was called on Dec. 2 by business and labor leaders to press Chavez to quit and hold early elections.
[color=Red]Weighing into the stalemate, the United States has urged Chavez to call early elections. Venezuela supplies 14 percent of U.S. oil imports and Washington is eager to solve the crisis as it mulls over the possibility of attacking Iraq. [/color]
But Chavez, who dismisses the strike as sabotage by fascists and traitors opposed to his self-styled revolution for the majority of poor Venezuelans, said calling early elections would violate the country's constitution.
"Nobody in Venezuela can call early elections, unless it is with a coup, as they already done here," he told reporters after giving a rambling five-hour broadcast in his weekly "Hello President" radio and television show on Sunday.
With foes and supporters of Chavez increasingly hardening their positions and staging daily street marches, few see a quick solution to the political crisis. Observers said the two sides seem to have settled for a war of attrition.
In what has become a nightly ritual across this polarized city, foes of Chavez banged pots in wealthy neighborhoods as his supporters took to the streets in poorer districts.
Riot police fired tear gas and shotgun pellets in central Caracas to break up clashes between rival protesters.
The international community has urged restraint to prevent a repeat of the street violence that killed more than 60 people during the chaotic April coup, when Chavez was briefly ousted by rebel military officers and then restored by loyal troops.
No injuries were reported on Sunday.
Chavez supporters have called for protests on Monday outside banks that have partially joined the strike, making it difficult for people to withdraw funds.
THE BATTLE OF THE PILIN LEON
With Venezuela appearing close to running out of gasoline, Chavez has sent troops to try to restart halted oil tankers, refineries and oil loading terminals. He has threatened to bring in foreign oil experts to try to break the strike.
Previous government attempts to move the Pilin Leon, which has become a symbol of the strike, have failed because the government has been unable to find qualified substitute crews.
As of early Monday, the Pilin Leon -- named after a former Venezuelan beauty queen -- remained anchored in Lake Maracaibo. Shipping sources said the foreign crew members brought aboard the Pilin Leon could not speak Spanish.
Timoteo Zambrano, an opposition negotiator, said on Sunday he had complained to the OAS's Gaviria about Chavez's use of troops to take over oil tankers and gasoline transport trucks.
Chavez's populist "revolution," which includes cheap credit and land handouts, has won a following among the poor; however his popularity has fallen sharply, opinion polls show.
|Re: Venezuela's Chavez, Oil, Strike|
|12/17/02 at 08:33:45|
This is a pretty sad situ that has taken place ....it is something that i hear about everyday since Venezuela is a stone throw away from my country .
"[glow=red,2,300]Weighing into the stalemate, the United States has urged Chavez to call early elections. Venezuela supplies 14 percent of U.S. oil imports and Washington is eager to solve the crisis as it mulls over the possibility of attacking Iraq. [/glow]. "
Again we see the real motive of the US ! ::)
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