Chavez supporters enter the stage

Sabri Oncu soncu at pacbell.net
Sat Apr 13 20:13:20 MDT 2002


Top World News


04/13 19:20
Venezuela's Carmona to Restore Congress Amid Rioting (Update5)
By Alex Kennedy, Patrick Gordon, Peter Wilson and Toby Muse


Caracas, April 13 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan interim President
Pedro Carmona said he would reinstate the nation's congress after
soldiers and supporters of deposed President Hugo Chavez took
control of the presidential palace, raising the prospect of armed
confrontation.

Carmona's announcement prompted William Lara, the leader of the
dissolved National Assembly and a member of Chavez's political
party, to say Carmona was not the legitimate president. Lara told
Union Radio that Chavez's vice president Diosdado Cabello should
succeed him.

"There is no interim president," Lara said. Carmona "committed
the crime of usurping presidential power and must be tried under
a judicial process like any other citizen." No countries have yet
recognized the interim government.

Carmona is seeking to preserve his two-day old government by
blunting criticism that he and the military committed a coup
d'etat, doing away with the country's democratic institutions.
Carmona late yesterday dissolved Congress, which was controlled
by Chavez supporters, and other institutions when he named a new
government.

Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena said that there were nine deaths so
far today, including one policeman. At least 48 people were
injured, including three policemen. He said looting had been
reported in seven neighborhoods.

"The police can't do it alone," Pena said. "The police need the
help of the National Guard and right now, they're not in the
street."

Broadcasts showed crowds attacking the Radio Caracas television
station.

General Demands Restoration

Carmona's announcement came minutes after Army Chief General
Efrain Vasquez called for the restoration of the National
Assembly, the Supreme Court, the attorney general's office and
other public bodies that had been dissolved. Carmona and his
staff were evacuated to the Fuerte Tiuna military base south of
Caracas, where he was under the protection of soldiers loyal to
the interim government.

"The National Assembly is being fully restored," Carmona said in
an interview with CNN's Spanish service.

Supporters of Chavez claim the president never resigned his
office, while opponents said it was just a matter of timing, and
regardless that Chavez would not return.

"Chavez is going to resign shortly," Vice Admiral Jesus Briceno,
who is a member of the interim cabinet. He also said Chavez "will
be taken abroad."

Palace Seized

Thousands of Chavez supporters surrounded the Miraflores
presidential palace, while soldiers posted in the building, which
serves as the government's main office, urged the crowds to
support Chavez. Many raised their fists in solidarity with the
protesters, standing on the building's roof and balconies.

"We will fight to the death to support Chavez," said Pvt. Luis
Vallana, one of the soldiers of the military contingent
protecting the palace. Other soldiers said there were at least
600 soldiers in the palace and the adjacent military building.

Long streams of Chavez supporters headed for Miraflores, walking
through middle-class neighborhoods, shouting their support.

"We want our president back," said Anna Mendez, a Chavez
supporter. "We won't accept Carmona for anything."

Protesters shouted that Chavez had been freed and Carmona had
been arrested. No police were present at the palace, which is
located in the city center.

"Chavez is in jail, but we have Miraflores (palace)," said Maria
Cristina Iglesias, who served as labor minister under Chavez. At
least two other ministers under Chavez were present, walking in
and out of the palace.

Local television station Venevision broke into its regular
programming, saying its personnel had received death threats and
wouldn't cover the rioting. It urged viewers to stay home. Many
of Caracas's main streets were almost deserted by late afternoon.

"We are telling American citizens to stay home and to monitor
events from there," said Lisa Gisvold, a spokeswoman at the U.S.
embassy in Caracas. "American citizens should cancel plans to
come to Venezuela."

Police Warning

The Metropolitan Police said the situation in Caracas was "out of
control" and "critical." A spokeswoman said there was nothing the
police could do.

Three policemen were seriously injured, one of whom was shot in
the head, she said. Another police spokeswoman said that the
police had information that pro-Chavez soldiers were headed for
the capital from outlying regions.

Chavez, a former lieutenant colonel who led a failed coup in
1992, was toppled Friday morning after three years of high
unemployment and crime and a dispute with the state oil company
over political appointments. Carmona suggested he would dismantle
Chavez laws that allow private property to be expropriated and
try to reverse a capital flight that economists estimate has
reached $12 billion since the beginning of 2000.

"We need confidence, investment, and jobs, and that requires
clear rules of the game," Carmona said.

Carmona yesterday named Leopoldo Martinez, a congressman from
Venezuela's First Justice Party, as finance minister and Leon
Arismendi planning minister. He did not say who the new energy
and mines minister would be.

Looting, Disturbances

Taxis refused to carry passengers to Simon Bolivar International
Airport from the capital because of disturbances in the western
neighborhood of Catia, which straddles the main highway. Airlines
said operations were normal with no cancellations or delays.

"There's lots of police in Catia because there was looting this
morning," said Josefina Veneri, who saw protesters attacking
stores. "I ran, I was scared."

Supermarkets and stores were closing in many neighborhoods as
fears of looting increased. Rioting in 1989 led to hundreds of
deaths.

Chavez supporters last night blocked the highway connecting
Caracas with the airport about 12 miles away on the Caribbean
coast for about five hours. No injures were reported, although
the highway remained strewn with rocks, bottles and tires after
it was reopened by the National Guard.


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