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More Protests Over Chavez's Rule Amid Venezuelan Crisis

Foes and followers of Hugo Chavez filled the night streets in rival protests that have divided Venezuela, each side trying to out-shout the other over opposition demands that the leftist president resign.

An opposition strike seeking Chavez' ouster was entering its 10th day Wednesday with chief mediator Cesar Gaviria reporting no progress in talks with the government and opposition.

"I can't say we've advanced," said Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, speaking Tuesday after the latest round.

With many stores shuttered for the strike and with oil shipments virtually paralyzed in the world's No. 5 oil exporting nation, many feared a turn for the worse.

For a second straight night, hundreds of raucous "Chavistas," as the president's followers are known, ringed the headquarters of the private Globovision network. They also rallied outside the state oil monopoly.

Elsewhere, thousands of Venezuelans opposed to Chavez's four-year rule entered the streets after sundown to clang pots and pans in a noisy nighttime ritual.

"We are all in mourning until Chavez leaves power," said Inez Quintera, 58, who marched with thousands of other Chavez opponents.

Many of Chavez's foes said they now no longer want a mere referendum on early elections as some in the opposition once proposed.

"We want Chavez to fall, nothing less," said Selina Palaver, 71, who tooted a black whistle and clutched a vial of vinegar as a possible antidote to tear gas.

The State Department warned U.S. citizens to put off all travel to Venezuela and said Americans already there should consider leaving. The agency said the political and security situation in the country was deteriorating, accompanied by severe shortages of goods and services.

Tuesday's statement said further violence was possible.

The strike triggered three deaths and 28 injuries during a shooting at an opposition rally on Friday.

Hopes of a swift, non-violent settlement receded as Gaviria said peace talks between the two sides did not advance beyond the government's agreement earlier this week to discuss "an electoral timetable."

Meanwhile, the opposition has stepped up its original demand of a vote on Chavez's rule, and many leaders are now calling for his immediate resignation.

But Chavez's government still refuses to recognize the very existence of the strike, which has almost dried up domestic fuel supplies and caused panic buying at supermarkets nationwide.

"The strike doesn't exist. It is a strike managed only through the media," said Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel.

Rangel also called for Venezuelans to respect the media and condemned any attempts to target news outlets.

On Monday, Chavez's street supporters surrounded several radio, television and newspaper stations and ransacked a regional television station. Chavez accuses the media of supporting the general strike.

The Inter-American Press Association, the hemisphere's largest press advocacy group, condemned those attacks and demanded that authorities guarantee the safety of Venezuelan journalists.

"The incidents of recent days confirm the lack of tolerance for free expression and the press in Venezuela," the U.S.-based group said in a statement.

Also Tuesday, nearly half of Venezuela's Supreme Court justices stopped work, condemning government political harassment and violence during the strike.

Eight of 20 magistrates will work only on urgent cases of national interest, said Magistrate Alberto Martini. Their decision came after the pro-Chavez Congress fired court vice president Franklin Arriechi, saying he wasn't qualified for the job.

Martini accused secret police of investigating justices who "have been suffering — like many Venezuelans — from a policy of threats and harassment."

While announcing another one-day extension of the nine-day-old general strike, the president of the Fedecamaras business organization, Carlos Fernandez, asked families to economize — ration their food and only buy essential goods.

Some were finding it hard even to buy the basics.

"I was waiting an hour in line but I gave up because it was almost closing time," said engineering student Francisco Abreu, 22,

He said the strike had affected him psychologically. "It scares my family. You can't watch TV because it just stresses you, and then there's the problem of everything being closed."

"They've taken our Christmas," Abreu said.