CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Police searched for the leader of Venezuela's largest labor group Friday after President Hugo Chavez authorized his arrest on treason charges for his role in a general strike that disrupted the economy and the nation's oil industry.
Carlos Ortega, president of the Venezuelan Workers Confederation, remained in hiding after strike co-organizer Carlos Fernandez, head of the nation's largest business group, was arrested and charged with treason Thursday.
Dozens of national guardsmen in riot gear stood guard outside as Fernandez made his first appearance in court Friday.
His arrest threatened to spark more turmoil in a country struggling to recover from the strike, which opposition leaders had hoped would force Chavez to resign or call early elections.
Thousands of people around Venezuela protested the Fernandez's arrest, and nine people were injured during clashes with police in the central city of Valencia.
Further protests were planned for Friday.
Opposition negotiators urged the Organization of American States, the United Nations and the Carter Center, run by former President Jimmy Carter, to send representatives to condemn the government's actions and revive talks aimed at organizing a new election.
The U.S. State Department said the arrest of strike leaders would lead to more political violence in the world's fifth leading oil-exporting nation.
President Chavez has labeled strike organizers as ``coup plotters'' and appeared unfazed by the opposition reaction to the arrest orders.
``One of the coup plotters was arrested last night. It was about time, and see how the others are running to hide,'' Chavez said Thursday. ``I went to bed with a smile.''
Chavez, a former paratrooper who was elected in 1998 and re-elected two years later, seemed to hint at further arrests, saying judges should not ``be afraid to issue arrest warrants against coup-plotters.''
Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez said Fernandez and Ortega were the only opposition leaders wanted for arrest, but ruling party lawmaker Luis Velasquez said that about 100 more people who supported the strike, ranging from labor bosses to news media executives, could be arrested.
``More than 100 are on the list to be captured,'' Velasquez said. The existence of such a list could not be immediately confirmed.
Ortega remained at large and pledged to ``continue the fight'' while in hiding.
``The only one who has a date with justice is the president,'' the labor leader told the local Globovision TV station by telephone.
Fernandez and Ortega face charges of treason, rebellion and instigating violence for their roles in orchestrating the strike, which continues in the vital oil industry.
Labor and business leaders warned of another nationwide strike in response to the arrest orders. The earlier work stoppage cost Venezuela an estimated $4 billion.
Chavez supporters gathered near the police headquarters, where Fernandez was being held, and a downtown plaza to celebrate the arrest.
``It's what had to be done. These opposition leaders tried to destroy the country; now they must be punished,'' said Tomas Ordonez, a 49-year-old taxi driver.