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Venezuela's Business Endorses Labor Call for General Strike - 2002-10-11


Venezuela's largest business association has endorsed a call by labor for a general strike on October 21 to pressure populist President Hugo Chavez to call early elections or step down. Meantime, the Venezuelan government has dismissed the strike threat as "undemocratic."

Venezuela's largest business association, Fedecamaras, Friday joined the strike call issued Thursday by the country's biggest labor confederation.

Fedecamaras head Carlos Fernandez announced to reporters that President Chavez has until October 15 to either step down, agree to early elections, or call a referendum on his rule. "If Mr. Chavez does not heed these demands," he said, "a general strike will be held on October 21. Mr. Fernandez added the business association might postpone the date depending on the response by President Chavez."

The announcement came one day after hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans marched through the streets of Caracas in the biggest anti-Chavez demonstration ever.

Meantime, Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel Friday dismissed the opposition threat of a nationwide strike. Mr. Rangel said the strike call is undemocratic, and compared it to someone being threated to make a decision with a gun to his head.

Mr. Rangel went on to describe Thursday's massive protest as an example of democracy and said a planned demonstration Sunday by pro-Chavez backers will show that the Venezuelan leader is still supported by most of his countrymen.

Mr. Chavez, a former paratrooper and coup leader, was elected president by an overwhelming majority in 1998. He was re-elected in 2000 under a new constitution to serve a six-year term. Since then, his popular support has declined dramatically though surveys show he still has the backing of a about 30 percent of the population.

The Venezuelan leader has offered to hold a referendum in August 2003 on whether he should step down. But the opposition wants him to leave office now, saying the oil rich nation is sinking economically because of his leftist policies.

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