Most workers at Venezuela's state owned oil monopoly and half of its administrators have abandoned a 53-day-old strike against President Hugo Chavez, the company's president said Thursday.

The claim was denied by Fedepetrol, Venezuela's largest oil workers union, which said that 17,000 of its 20,000 members remained on strike.

Ali Rodriguez, president of the Petroleos de Venezuela SA monopoly, also said Venezuelan crude oil production has surpassed 1 million barrels per day, the state news agency Venpres reported.

But striking executives said in a report Thursday that Venezuela has raised its daily oil production to 812,000 barrels Thursday from 714,000 barrels on Wednesday. The pre-strike figure was 3.2 million barrels a day, the executives said.

Chavez's government claims that it is breaking the strike, which has drastically affected production in the world's fifth largest exporter of oil and a top supplier to the United States.

Hopes for a resumption of Venezuelan oil output helped depress crude oil futures Thursday.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, contracts for March crude ended down 60 cents at $32.25 a barrel.

Earlier this week, tanker pilots said they were returning to their jobs in the oil-producing region of Lake Maracaibo. The move would ease concerns about safety conditions at Venezuelan ports and persuade foreign-flagged tankers to resume loading and shipments.

Rodriguez said 75 percent of oil workers and 50 percent of administrators have returned to work. PDVSA employs 40,000 people, about half of them blue collar workers.

About 35,000 PDVSA employees went on strike Dec. 2 to demand that Chavez call early elections or resign. Crude production reached a low of 200,000 barrels per day during the strike.

Gasoline shortages continued, the striking executives said. On Wednesday, 427 of 1,811 service stations in the country received gasoline, or 24 percent of the total. Only 16 stations received gasoline in Caracas, the capital city of 4 million people.

But Rodriguez said the government, which has imported gasoline during the strike, has enough gasoline in stock to supply the country for 15 days.