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Oil Workers Strike in Venezuela

July 19, 2000

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Oil workers and college professors staged strikes over their separate disputes with the federal government less than two weeks before national elections.

Oil employees walked off the job for an hour Tuesday to protest delays in negotiations over a new contract for 40,000 workers. Professors in public universities struck for 24 hours complaining of alleged government attacks on their autonomy.

At two universities, the government has replaced chancellors elected by professors with its own choices, who have subsequently fired professors unfriendly to the government, said Lourdes Ramirez, vice president of the Federation of Associations of University Professors.

The oil workers’ strike involved thousands of employees working without a contract since November at the state-run Petroleos de Venezuela. Venezuela, the third largest oil exporter in the world, depends on oil for more than 70 percent of its export earning.

Officials downplayed the significance of both strikes.

``What this federation is doing is entering into the election campaign,″ said Maria Castellanos, vice minister of higher education, said of the teacher strike.

Venezuelans will vote in general elections on July 30 as required by a new constitution Chavez pushed through last year that seeks to ``re-legitimize″ public offices, including the presidency.

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