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    OPEC Readies Output Hike

    Cartel looks to control prices, spiked by Venezuelan strike.

    CAIRO -- Responding to a strike in Venezuela that has run three weeks, the world's top exporter, Saudi Arabia, said over the weekend that OPEC would release more supply onto world markets if prices continued to top the cartel's self-imposed $22-28-a-barrel target range.

    OPEC had agreed to rein in output, figuring supplies in Venezuela would resume imminently, but there are no signs that the strike is near conclusion.

    Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said the 11-member group remained committed to a "fair price," and would deploy an informal output mechanism to tame a price rally fueled by the Venezuelan oil shutdown and fears of war in Iraq, Reuters reported. "We have said many times we are dedicated to preventing shortages, we are dedicated to stabilizing the market, we are committed to a fair price," Naimi told reporters on the sidelines of an Arab oil minister meeting in Cairo.

    OPEC's basket stood at $29.56 per barrel on Thursday while New York crude futures settled on Friday at $30.30 a barrel, gaining 11 cents on the day. "Should that price continue," said Naimi, "in accordance with the price-band mechanism, it will be implemented, like what we have done in the past."

    Qatar and Libya also backed an automatic OPEC output increase if prices stay above $28 for 20 consecutive working days.

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