Oil tanker pilots in western Venezuela have ended a seven-week-old strike. The move appears to be the first crack in a protest that has crippled the world's sixth-largest oil exporter.

The end of the strike should make it easier to export crude from the western Lake Maracaibo region, which pumps half the country's oil.

The strike was part of an oil industry action intended to force President Hugo Chavez from power.

Thousands of other oil workers remain on strike.

The labour action has slashed Venezuelan oil exports to one-fifth of normal levels and helped push oil prices to two-year highs.