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Opposition protests Chavez

From Harris Whitbeck

Chanting "Let him leave today," opponents of President Hugo Chavez filled bridges, overpasses and parks in Caracas on Saturday.

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CARACAS, Venezuela (CNN) -- Chanting "He's going to fall, he's going to fall," hundreds of thousands of protesters poured into the streets of the capital Saturday, demanding the resignation of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in what organizers said was one of the largest demonstrations to date.

Protesters marched in the streets, many chanting, waving placards and carrying giant Venezuelan flags.

The increasingly tense situation in Caracas came at the end of a second week of growing anti-Chavez protests. Opposition activists have also organized a massive strike that has depleted basic humanitarian supplies in the country, and oil production and exports in the world's fifth largest oil producing nation.

Last week, three people were killed by gunfire during the protests. It's not clear who fired those shots.

Efforts by the Organization of American States to mediate an end to the crisis have yielded no success.

The opposition is demanding Chavez resign immediately. But Chavez supporters say that is against the country's constitution.

On Friday, the White House stepped up pressure on Chavez, saying that early elections were the only viable solution for Venezuela. U.S. envoy Thomas Shannon, a deputy secretary of state, delivered the same message during a news conference in Caracas Saturday. (Full story)

President Chavez rejected a U.S. call for early elections.
President Chavez rejected a U.S. call for early elections.

A bristling Chavez responded in an interview on a sister network, CNN Espanol, that Washington was wrong and he would send a copy of Venezuela's constitution to Washington for U.S. officials to read.

The United States is Venezuela's top oil customer, buying on average 50 percent of Venezuela's crude output, which has been reduced from an average 3 million barrels a day to only 550,000.

More than 90 percent of Venezuela's 40,000 oil workers are participating in the strike.

Juan Fernandez, one of four top executives at the state-owned oil agency PDVSA who were fired after the strike began, says the oil industry is 90 percent paralyzed.

A high level government official on Friday for the first time acknowledged the strike had rendered the industry nearly inoperable.

Chavez, who controls the military, ordered troops to take over oil cargo ships and oil production facilities. But they are not trained to run the equipment needed to produce oil.

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