Venezuela's government on Tuesday approved the six million deal for the families of about 1000 people killed when government troops opened fire during the rioting in 1989.

The so-called Caracazo street riots - ignited by a package of strict IMF-backed economic reforms - became a landmark human rights case in Venezuela after troops fired indiscriminately at protesting crowds in Caracas.

"This is a way to comply with international obligations on the issue of human rights," Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton said in a statement.

President Hugo Chavez accepted
evidence of human rights abuses

The payments were ordered in a 1999 ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights - part of the Organisation of American States.

Hillside slums

President Hugo Chavez' government accepted that authorities had committed human rights abuses during the riots.

Protests over the 1989 reforms quickly spilled into angry looting as hundreds of poor people streamed down from hillside slums that ring Caracas.

Then-President Carlos Andres Perez ordered a curfew and sent tanks into the streets.

Official figures originally put the death toll at around 300, but human rights groups estimated it was much higher. In Tuesday's statement the government said about 1000 people had been killed.

It was unclear why the payments were approved now. The announcement coincided with a flurry of bonus payments and salary raises for public workers in advance of a possible referendum on Chavez' rule.

Botched coup

Populist Chavez has often hailed the Caracazo riots as providing political roots for his own left-leaning "revolution" to aid the poor majority.

"This is a way to comply with international obligations on the issue of human rights"

Roy Chaderton
Foreign Minister
 

The former army paratrooper led a botched coup attempt against the Perez government six years before his 1998 election victory.

Some victims' families have since accused the Chavez government of using the deaths for political gain.

More than a year after surviving a short-lived coup himself, Chavez is facing an opposition campaign for a referendum to end his mandate in the world's number five oil exporter.

His foes accuse him of driving Venezuela towards economic ruin and authoritarian rule.