Caracas, Venezuela — Foes of President Hugo Chavez vowed on Saturday to step up efforts to resolve the country's crisis peacefully -- one day after troops battled through protesters to raid privately owned bottling plants.
Government adversaries urged Venezuelans to use their vote in a Feb. 2 nonbinding referendum on Chavez's rule rather than respond to violence with more violence.
Opposition representatives at talks mediated by the Organization of American States said they would plow on with negotiations despite statements by Chavez that the government could leave the talks.
"The president can try to leave the table with a characteristically violent gesture but we reply with civilized, democratic and peaceful behavior," said Alejandro Armas, one of six opposition representatives at the talks. "We are going to stay at the table."
Cesar Gaviria, the OAS secretary general, began mediating the talks in November. Little progress has been made while a 7-week-old strike called by business and labor groups to force Chavez from office threatens to destroy Venezuela's economy.
"If we decide to leave the table it's because those people (opposition) don't show demonstrations of wanting to take the democratic path," Chavez told the state-run Venpres news agency Saturday.
On Friday, soldiers seized food and drink from Venezuela's largest food company, Empresas Polar, and an affiliate of U.S. soft drink giant Coca-Cola to distribute among the people.
Chavez defended the raids in the industrial city of Valencia, 66 miles west of Caracas. He said the companies that owned the plants were denying Venezuelans food and drink during the crippling strike.
Late Saturday, thousands of anti-government protesters staged a candlelight march in Caracas.