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Venezuelans Horrified, Angry Following Friday Shooting - 2002-12-07

Fears and tensions, mixed with calls for reconciliation greeted Venezuelans Saturday in the wake of Friday's shootings in a Caracas plaza filled with opposition demonstrators. Three people, including a teenage girl, were killed and nearly 30 were wounded. The attack came moments after the opposition declared a continuation of their general strike against populist President Hugo Chavez.

Horror, anger and dismay continue in Venezuela Saturday, following the deadly attack in a Caracas plaza, where opposition demonstrators were holding a rally in support of dissident military officers.

An elderly woman and a teenage girl were among those who died of their wounds. Gunmen opened fire on the plaza moments after opposition leaders in another part of the city announced the extension of a general strike against the Chavez government for another day.

Police arrested seven men in connection with the shootings. Authorities said one man, a Portuguese citizen who has lived in Venezuela for more than 20 years, confessed to firing into the crowd.

The shootings confirmed the worst fears of the opposition during this unprecedented six-day strike. For days, opposition leaders have been warning that radical elements linked to the left-wing government were planning to gun down anti-Chavez demonstrators.

However, President Hugo Chavez dismissed these accusations, and appealed for calm. He told reporters Friday he has ordered a full investigation into the shootings.

The United States and the Organization of American States have appealed for calm. OAS head Cesar Gaviria late Friday urged opposition and government negotiators to resume formal talks, aimed at finding a democratic solution. The talks were suspended a week ago, when government negotiators walked out, after the opposition went ahead with plans to begin the strike on Monday.

Further violence is feared if pro and anti-Chavez demonstrations go ahead as planned Saturday.

The opposition strike, the fourth in less than a year, is aimed at forcing President Chavez to call early elections. The opposition accuses him of driving the country to ruin with his leftist economic and social policies. Mr. Chavez, in turn, accuses the opposition of trying to de-rail what he has called his social revolution.

The six-day strike has crippled the country's vital oil industry, slowing production and exports.

Oil accounts for 75 percent of Venezuela's exports, and half the government's income. Venezuela also is a main supplier of petroleum to the United States. Oil prices on international markets have already increased because of the impact of the Venezuelan crisis.