- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 4, 2003

CARACAS, Venezuela, Jan. 4 (UPI) — An escalation of the violence accompanying the unending demonstrations against President Hugo Chavez killed two people and injured many more, newspapers and CNN reported Saturday, but the source of the gunfire could not be immediately identified.

Five people were injured by the same gunfire that killed two demonstrators outside Caracas' Fort Tiuna, as Chavez supporters threw bottles, fire crackers and rocks at opposition marchers. The opposition demonstrators were showing support for an army general under house arrest inside.

Hours after the street fight another demonstration against Chavez was organized, but without the same level of violence.

Earlier soldiers, police and the national guard launched tear gas canisters as marchers taunted them. More than six dozen people including seven police officers suffered injuries other than gunshot wounds in the melee.

The daily marches and strikes by oil industry workers begun over a month ago have severely cut into the country's economic output, with some analysts predicting Venezuela may have to default on its foreign debt service if the turmoil continues through the rest of January.

The New York Times Saturday reported Chavez is trying to import oil workers from Algeria to help boost oil production further. The government is estimated to be losing about $35 million a day in oil revenues with production at low levels, between 150,000 and 800,000 barrels a day.

Chavez, whose term runs to 2007, has ignored calls for his resignation and for new elections. During Friday's demonstrations Chavez met with officials from the Organization of American States who have made no progress in trying to mediate the massive dispute.

Yet the food supply has not been hurt, many small businesses keep operating in the capital city and some gasoline is still being sold to long lines of motorists.

The civil impasse has pressured the world price of oil even as the Venezuelan currency has weakened.

The strikers and opposition demonstrators are largely drawn from the middle class while Chavez supporters are mostly among the 80 percent of the population classified as poor and who keep the president's popularity rating above 30 percent, perhaps the strongest in Latin America.

CNN Saturday reported opposition leaders have urged a tax boycott to further cripple the government.

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