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Wed, Jan 22, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Microsoft closes office in Venezuela for safety's sake


Microsoft Corp, the world's largest software maker, is temporarily closing its office in Venezuela because of safety concerns as a 50-day national strike sparks riots.

Microsoft wants to ensure the safety of 85 sales and support workers in the company's Caracas office, located on the east side of Venezuela's capital, said Ricardo Adame, a Microsoft spokesman.

The decision follows a shutdown by international companies including Ford Motor Co, Royal Dutch/Shell Group and Coca-Cola Co, which have curtailed operations or closed offices in Venezuela after a strike aimed at deposing President Hugo Chavez began Dec. 2. The walkout has led to violence by supporters and opponents of the president. Rioting south of the city today killed one person and injured 14 others, Venezuela's Globovision reported.

"The great majority of US companies have ceased operations," said Antonio Herrera-Vaillant, general manager of the Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce. "There's also been a trend of companies that have actually pulled out completely."

Oracle Corp. is among foreign companies that have scaled back operations by shortening hours or giving their employees the choice of working from home. Some foreign company workers also have participated in the strike.

"Most people are working from home," said Dave Samson, spokesman at Oracle, which employs less than 100 workers in Caracas. "We're really leaving it to them to determine when and if to go into the office."

Avon Products Inc, the largest direct seller of cosmetics, said it was continuing to operate, though at a reduced capacity.

"The situation has had some impact on our shipping and distributing products in the country," said Avon spokesman Victor Beaudet. "It's a very serious situation that we are continuing to monitor."

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