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Chavez Appeals to Supporters in Caracas - 2002-12-08


Venezuela's embattled populist president, Hugo Chavez has called on supporters to defend the country's oil industry. It has been severely crippled by an opposition-led strike continuing since Monday. He made his appeal at a rally in Caracas Saturday. At the same time, opposition marchers mourned the Friday shooting deaths of demonstrators. Protests continued late Saturday against Mr. Chavez.

Venezuelans beat pots and pans Saturday in the nightly protest against President Chavez and his left-wing government. The pot banging followed a fiery speech by Mr. Chavez before thousands of his supporters, calling on them to defend the oil industry against the opposition-led campaign to unseat him.

During the speech, Mr. Chavez once again rejected opposition accusations that he was responsible for Friday's shootings of opposition demonstrators in a Caracas plaza.

The deaths have caused opposition leaders to escalate their demands for ending the crippling six-day general strike. They began the strike on Monday calling on Mr. Chavez to agree to early elections that would cut short his current six-year term by half. Now, following Friday's shootings, the opposition is demanding his immediate resignation.

The strike has severely crippled Venezuela's vital petroleum industry, cutting exports and production in the world's fifth largest oil producing country.

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