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Venezuelan President Calls Planned Strike Doomed - 2001-12-07

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says the business-led work-stoppage called for Monday is doomed to failure and he has urged protest organizers to reconsider their decision. Mr. Chavez commented late Thursday, in a nationwide address, marking the third anniversary of his election as President.

As fireworks crackled, President Chavez sang to throngs of supporters gathered outside the Presidential Palace late Thursday, to celebrate the third anniversary of his election victory. Addressing the nation earlier in the evening, the Venezuelan leader sharply criticized the work-stoppage called for Monday by the country's largest business association, to protest a series of economic laws decreed by Mr. Chavez last month.

The 12-hour shut down will be supported by Venezuela's opposition-led trade unions and other organizations which have urged their members not to go to work that day.

But in his speech, Mr. Chavez denounced the protest and said thousands of small and medium-sized businesses will ignore it. He said those who are calling for this national shut-down do not have one valid reason to go on strike. It will end up, he said, as a failure because no one can stop Venezuela.

Mr. Chavez then went on to describe what he said have been his achievements since his election as President on December 6 1998, including rewriting a new constitution, reactivating the economy, and stopping the rise in poverty.

But the Venezuelan leader, who won an overwhelming victory three years ago, has seen support for his brand of leftist populism decline rapidly in recent months. This was evident in neighborhoods throughout Caracas, as people banged pots and pans Thursday during his speech.

The clanging protest has become commonplace every time Mr. Chavez addresses the nation.

Monday's stoppage was called to protest laws which Mr. Chavez promulgated by decree, under powers given to him by the Congress controlled by his supporters. Fedecamaras, the business association that organized Monday's protest, objects to the laws because it says they will give the government too great a role in industries ranging from agriculture to oil. But the Venezuelan leader says the laws are aimed at stimulating production and promoting social justice.

In a VOA interview, Fedecamaras President Pedro Carmona said these are the same goals of the private sector. He said we are all in agreement on the need to make Venezuela more just, and we believe this should be accomplished through the free market with greater social equality, not through creating a more powerful state.

On Friday, a group calling for Mr. Chavez' resignation will march through Caracas, to the Presidential Palace. However, they will be met by many of Mr. Chavez' supporters who were celebrating his 1998 election victory on Thursday, and then began an overnight vigil outside the Palace gates. Those supporters have vowed not to let the marchers reach the Presidential compound, a situation that has created fears of possible political violence.