Venezuela renames top oil reserve after Hugo Chavez

CARACAS Tue Feb 18, 2014 3:47pm EST

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CARACAS Feb 18 (Reuters) - Venezuela on Tuesday renamed its largest crude reserve, traditionally known as the Orinoco Belt, after the country's late socialist leader.

"I've decided as of today to name it the Hugo Chavez Oil Belt," said President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's protege and successor, during a rally of oil workers. "Do you agree?"

The crowd roared its approval.

"The biggest oil reserve on the planet was rescued by our Commander Chavez," Maduro said, referring to his predecessor's crusade to boost state control over natural resources.

Chavez died last year after a 14-year rule in which he built up a cult following thanks to liberal spending of oil revenue that helped him win repeated elections.

His detractors accuse him of squandering a decade-long windfall and leaving behind an economy weakened by state controls.

The United States Geological Survey in 2010 estimated the area held 513 billion barrels of recoverable heavy oil, calling it "one of the world's largest."

Maduro, who casts himself as the "son" of Chavez and has pledged to maintain his political legacy, was speaking on another day of unrest in Venezuela which has seen a week of demonstrations against the president.

Four people have died. (Additional reporting by Deisy Rodriguez; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Chizu Nomiyama)

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