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Strike Gains Momentum in Venezuela - 2002-12-18

In Caracas, tens of thousands of flag-waving opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have marched near the tomb of Simon Bolivar on the anniversary of the 19th century independence hero's death. The march came one day after police fired tear gas at anti-government demonstrators who blocked thoroughfares in the capital. Meanwhile, government efforts to free the country's oil industry from the clutches of a 16-day national strike are provoking new protests from petroleum workers and Venezuela's merchant marines. VOA-TV’s George Dwyer reports.

Venezuela's president has now sent soldiers to board oil tankers that are blocking its harbors, with orders to get oil exports moving again.

But there have been no shipments for days, and millions of barrels sit waiting. The U.S. normally imports thirteen per cent of its oil from this country, but today the country is paralyzed, and every day more and more people are calling on President Hugo Chavez to resign.

“He has done nothing but destroy our country and we want him away.”

Chavez was democratically elected four years ago. But he is friendly with Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein, and like them he has declared his intention to remain President as long as he wants.

"He doesn't act democratically, his attitude is one of a military person, a traditional Latin American authoritarian figure who says this is how it's going to be because I say so."

Last week some of the President's supporters ransacked a TV station, accusing local media of trying to topple the President.

And there are fears here that this could escalate into a civil war.