Court orders halt to Venezuela oil strike

By Associated Press
Published December 19, 2002 7:49PM (EST)

Venezuela's Supreme Court ordered a temporary halt to an oil industry strike while it considers the legality of the work stoppage, which entered its 18th day Thursday.

The court said it was considering a motion filed by an executive with Venezuela's state-owned oil monopoly asking the justices to declare the strike illegal.

The court said it will hear arguments on the motion within four days. In the meantime, it ordered striking workers and executives at the state-owned oil monopoly to resume work immediately.

Felix Rodriguez, director of production at Petroleos de Venezuela SA, filed the motion Tuesday, arguing that the work stoppage -- which has drastically cut oil exports from the world's fifth-largest oil producer -- threatened national security.

There was no immediate reaction from dissident executives at the oil company, which employs 40,000 people.

A general strike by organized labor and business to oust President Hugo Chavez has stopped oil exports from Venezuela, a key supplier to the United States, and sent global prices above $30 a barrel.

Oil production was down to 370,000 barrels per day -- compared to 3 million barrels before the strike. Some oil executives fired by Chavez claim production is just 200,000 barrels per day.

Venezuelan and foreign tankers are idle, refineries are closed or operating at minimum levels and crews and dock workers are refusing to handle oil and non-oil cargos.

The government is still trying to unload the tanker Pilin Leon -- named after a former Miss World -- which anchored off the western city of Maracaibo in protest. The ship carries 280,000 barrels of gasoline, roughly a day's supply for the nation.

Associated Press

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