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Gunfire crackled in the streets Tuesday and backers of a spreading and violent strike rebuilt street barricades that police and the army had dismantled overnight.

President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro called on the army to end bloody clashes between her supporters and Sandinistas backing a week-old general strike that is the stiffest threat yet to her U.S.-backed government.At least three people were reported killed in earlier gunfire. More were reported wounded overnight but the extent of the casualties was not immediately clear.

Most government ministries and state-owned businesses remained in the control of pro-Sandinista strikers Tuesday.

Bonfires burned at many key intersections, and the highway to the airport was blocked by barricades of paving stones and other obstacles. Most Managuans who went to work walked.

The army is dominated by the Sandinistas and it was not yet clear whether soldiers would take up arms against compatriots who have organized the crippling strikes and fought Chamorro backers with fists, rocks and guns.

Armored cars patrolled the streets of Managua and gunfire could be heard during the night, but reporters could not get close to the fighting.

The violence began Sunday evening and intensified Monday.

Police said the dead included a man fatally shot in a clash between government supporters and Sandinistas. They said about 100 people had been injured; hospitals reported much lower casualty figures.

The strikes and street violence have brought the country to a near standstill.

In scenes reminiscent of the 1979 revolution that brought them to power, the Sandinistas built smoky bonfires of trash and tires all over Managua on Monday and erected barricades.

A haze hung over the capital, a city of 1 million people. Electricity and drinking water were cut off in most of Managua. Mail and operator-assisted telephone calls were suspended.

There was virtually no bus service, and state-run cooperatives and other agricultural installations, textile and construction plants were idle.

Striking air traffic controllers shut down the international airport, and the road to Managua was blockaded by protesters. The police tore down their barricades with backhoes; the demonstrators put them up again.

Chamorro, facing the worst crisis of her 10-week-old presidency, made a nationally broadcast appeal for calm on Monday night. She begged compatriots not to answer "violence with violence, which has already claimed victims."

The Sandinistas, though, renewed their strike calls and warned the government was courting "chaos and a catastrophe."

Sandinista-controlled unions say Chamorro is firing too many people from government jobs as she tries to reduce the budget deficit. They also object to her plans to sell dozens of state-owned companies and farms that the Sandinistas had expropriated from the wealthy.

The Sandinistas held power for a decade, warring nearly all the while with the U.S.-backed Contras who sought to topple them and suffering economic hardship as the result of a U.S. trade embargo.

Chamorro's 14-party coalition unseated the Sandinistas in elections Feb. 25 and the Contras disarmed last month.