- Title: VENEZUELA: VENEZUELA'S GENERAL STRIKE HAS ENTERED ITS 39TH DAY
- Date: 8th January 2003
- Summary: (W8) CARACAS, VENEZUELA (JANUARY 09, 2003) (REUTERS) SLV/CU OF CLOSED BANKS (5 SHOTS) SLV/SV OF SEVERAL BANKS THAT REMAIN OPEN/PEOPLE OUTSIDE BANK (3 SHOTS) MCU (Spanish) RUBEN REYES, COURIER WHO WORKS IN CARACAS, SAYING: "The strike has only worked halfway because Provincial (Bank), Banco Venezuela, and many other banks did not join the strike. I think everyone has to be in agreement, I think it was just done halfway."
- Embargoed: 23rd January 2003 12:00
- Location: CARACAS AND MARACAIBO AND FALCON, VENEZUELA
- Country: Venezuela
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA1M9KUSX0CNC871UDMFS9D4W06
- Story Text: Venezuela's general strike has entered its 39th day with no end in site and with banks joining the work stoppage for at least 48-hours.
Police have used tear gas to quell various demonstrations throughout the country as demonstrations by both sides have continued to dominate the scene in Caracas.
Venezuelan bank workers walked off the job on Thursday (January 09), fueling the turmoil from a five-week opposition strike that has crippled the oil sector in the world's fifth-largest petroleum exporter.
The strike by members of the bank employee union Fetrabanca closed most banking services.
The 48-hour work stoppage was called in support of the strike launched by opposition leaders on Dec. 2 to press leftist President Hugo Chavez to resign and hold early elections.
The opposition strike, now in its 39th day, has battered Venezuela's oil-reliant economy, caused widespread gasoline shortages and fired up political tensions between opponents and supporters of the populist Chavez.
National Guard troops fired tear gas and shotgun pellets early on Thursday to disperse opposition demonstrators protesting outside an oil refinery installation in northwest Falcon state, some 500 kilometres west of Caracas.
Private banks, which make up about 90 percent of the 57 institutions in the banking sector, had already been operating on restricted hours in support of the strike.
Venezuela's central bank said its domestic and international operations would continue as normal and its foreign currency exchange desk would be open.
State banks and some private banks were also operating.
The banking shutdown further tested the resolve of Venezuelans who have been forced to line up for scarce supplies of gasoline and cope with shortages in foodstuffs, such as flour, milk, soft drinks and beer.
Opposition leaders, angry over the economic and political damage they say Chavez has inflicted on Venezuela, have vowed to press on with the shutdown until the president resigns and calls elections.
Chavez, a former paratrooper who won a landslide election victory in 1998 six years after leading a coup attempt, and survived a brief coup in April, has rejected calls for elections and accuses foes of trying to topple him. While his popularity has plummeted, many poorer voters say they see hope in his self-styled "revolution."
The strike, spearheaded by rebel managers in the state oil firm PDVSA, has battered crude production and exports, which account for half of government revenues.
Chavez has sent troops and replacement workers to substitute for striking oil crews and has restructured PDVSA to counter the shutdown. Strike leaders said the measures would do little to dent the walkout. Exports are at less than a fifth of the 2.7 million barrels per day sold in November.
Several minor oil spills have been caused by the inexperience crews sent in by the government.
At one oil well in Maracaibo, some 40 barrels of oil spilled and a large black slick could be seen from one of the off-shore oil drills.
Authorities have indicated that these small spills are considered normal.
Opposition leaders, an alliance of political parties, civic groups, business associations and unions, want elections in the next three months.
With a campaign of daily street marches, they are also pushing for Chavez to accept a nonbinding referendum on his mandate in February.
Chavez has said his opponents must wait until August when the constitution allows a binding referendum on his presidency.
His current termin 2007.
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