Blast rocks Venezuelan oil city
CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) -- A suspected car bomb exploded early Sunday in the western Venezuelan oil city of Maracaibo, destroying three cars and damaging buildings including a local office of the U.S. oil company Chevron Texaco, police said.
No one was injured in the blast, which shattered windows and hurled debris over a wide area, badly scarring the fronts of several private houses in the Richmond estate of Maracaibo's San Francisco district.
"Everything points to it being a car bomb," San Francisco police inspector Francis Gonzalez told Reuters.
The explosion in Venezuela's second city was the third in less than a week following bomb attacks early Tuesday against Spanish and Colombian diplomatic buildings in Caracas, in which five people were injured.
Police are still investigating these attacks.
Gonzalez said a local administrative office in San Francisco of the U.S. oil giant Chevron suffered damage to its windows and facade in Sunday's blast but did not appear to be the main target. Chevron is one of the major foreign oil companies operating in the oil-rich country.
Worst hit by the explosion was the home of a well-known local family, the Melians, and police were investigating the possibility that the attack might have been directed against them, Gonzalez said.
The Richmond neighborhood is home to many families involved in the local oil industry.
Venezuela's western oil and shipping hub of Maracaibo was one of the areas most affected by a recent two-month opposition strike against President Hugo Chavez in December and January which slashed oil production by the world's No. 5 oil exporter.
Chavez has sacked some 15,000 strikers in the state oil industry, calling them "terrorists" trying to overthrow him.
The recent bomb attacks are unusual in Venezuela. Although the country has suffered an increase in political violence caused by feuding between supporters and foes of left-wing populist Chavez, bomb attacks of the kind experienced in neighboring Colombia are rare.
Colombia said Saturday its security forces, in a joint operation with Venezuelan armed forces, had foiled an attempt by leftist Colombian guerrillas to blow up a border crossing bridge using a tanker truck packed with explosives.
In the operation, four suspected Colombian guerrillas were captured by Venezuelan troops and handed over to Colombian authorities.
Tuesday's bomb attacks against the Spanish embassy cooperation office and the Colombian consulate in Caracas followed a speech by Chavez in which he sharply criticized the governments of Spain, Colombia and the United States, warning them not to meddle in his country's political crisis.
Chavez, who was first elected in 1998 and survived a coup last year, is resisting fierce opposition pressure to resign.
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