Venezuelan Interim President Resigns

Sabri Oncu soncu at
Sat Apr 13 21:25:12 MDT 2002

Venezuelan Interim President Resigns
Sat Apr 13,11:00 PM ET
By ANDREW SELSKY, Associated Press Writer

Venezuela's interim president resigned Saturday — a day after
taking office — in the face of protests by thousands of
supporters of the ousted president, Hugo Chavez.

"Before the nation, before the Venezuelan people, I present this
resignation," Pedro Carmona told Union Radio.

Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets earlier Saturday —
some taking over state TV — demanding that ousted Chavez be
returned to power. Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena said nine people
were killed and 40 injured Saturday in the violence.

Carmona said he was handing over power to the National Assembly,
but Chavez's vice president, Diosdado Cabello, went on Union
Radio to say he was acting president until Chavez returns to
power. He was shown being sworn in on television.

Labor Minister Maria Christina Iglesias had said on state TV that
Chavez was about to be flown out of the country by a military
plane from Orchila Island off the Venezuelan coast.

Earlier in the day, with control of the military appearing to
unravel, Carmona postponed inaugurating his Cabinet.

The military of oil-rich Venezuela forced Chavez out on Friday
after demonstrations against him. Some commanders refused to
accept the appointment of Carmona, head of Fedecameras,
Venezuela's largest business association.

Tens of thousands of Chavez supporters surged toward the
presidential palace as night fell Saturday, demanding Chavez's

Chavez backers took over state TV and went on air to insist that
Chavez was still president, applauding the "peaceful insurrection
in the streets" that called for his return. Juan Barreto,
parliamentary deputy in Chavez's party, called the new government
"fascist" and urged that the protests continue.

"The tyrant has been deposed," Barreto said, referring to
Carmona. He said Chavez would not quit, even as he remained in
military custody.

Police drove back smaller groups of protesters from the
presidential palace with tear gas earlier on Saturday, and
gunfire was heard in the nearby Catia slum, a Chavez stronghold.

"We want to see Chavez. The Venezuelan people don't buy it that
he has resigned," shouted Maria Brito, a 36-year-old

As the massive crowd approached the palace at nightfall, there
was no tear gas, and soldiers on a nearby roof urged the
demonstrators on by pumping their fists and waving Venezuelan
flags and their red berets, a symbol of Chavez's rule.

Bowing to demands by restive army commanders, Carmona said
Saturday that Chavez will be allowed to leave the country and
promised to reinstate the country's National Assembly, which he
dissolved on Friday after being sworn in.

The army commander, Gen. Efrain Vasquez, made the demands at a
news conference at a base on the outskirts of Caracas. The army
"is doing what's necessary to immediately correct the errors
committed in this transition process," Vasquez said.

Chavez, a former army paratroop colonel who led a failed 1992
coup but was elected in 1998 on an anti-poverty platform, was
being detained. Barreto, speaking on state TV, said Chavez "is
kidnapped right now on Orchila Island" and that several military
bases across the nation are under control of pro-Chavez forces.

He urged the dissolved National Assembly to report to the TV
station and said Chavez's Cabinet was in the presidential palace
with Cabello.

"Very soon we will have President Hugo Chavez directing, once
again, affairs of state in Venezuela," Iglesias said. She called
for the military high command and Carmona to meet with Chavez's

Carmona, during an earlier interview with the CNN en Espanol,
said Chavez was well and would soon leave Venezuela for an
unspecified destination. He also acknowledged that air force
officers were rebelling in the central city of Maracay.

Police fired at protesters in various Caracas slums Saturday,
wounding several. "We have every right to protest, but they are
gunning us down out there," said Edgar Paredes, his clothes
soaked in blood as he brought his wounded brother to a hospital.
He didn't know who shot Luis. Like most violent demonstrations
here, gunfire can erupt from any side.

Chavez's family, supporters and former government officials
insisted he never resigned, as Carmona and Venezuela's high
command have claimed.

Chavez was ousted by Venezuela's military on Friday after
National Guard troops and pro-Chavez gunmen clashed with
opposition protesters. A pathologist at the Caracas morgue said
30 bodies had been brought in by early Saturday, most with bullet
wounds. Authorities said hundreds were injured.

In Caracas, downtown shopkeepers hurriedly closed as word of
isolated disruptions spread Saturday. At least 20 small
disturbances were reported in Caracas, the new government said.
Unrest also was reported in Maracay, Guarenas, Los Teques and

Police shot tear gas, including in front of the presidential
palace, at spontaneous pro-Chavez demonstrations in wide areas of
this tropical city of 5 million. Protesters, chanting "Chavez
will be back!" and "Democracy, not dictatorship," dispersed, then
reformed under a haze of tear gas.

About 500 Chavez supporters also marched overnight on the army
fort where Chavez was earlier held, facing off with soldiers and
tanks, witnesses said. Troops fired rubber bullets, injuring some
protesters, said Brito, the demonstrator.

In contrast to Chavez's strained relations with the United
States, Venezuela's new foreign minister-designate, Jose
Rodriguez, said Saturday he wants tight relations with Washington
and called Colombian rebels "double enemies of humanity."
President Bush (news - web sites) wants to increase military aid
to Colombia to fight the rebels, and Venezuela's cooperation
would be an important aspect.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Rodriguez denied that
Friday's swearing in of Carmona was a coup in disguise. Mexico,
Argentina and Paraguay are among other Latin American countries
that have denounced Venezuela's new government as illegitimate.

"I don't think this has been viewed objectively," Rodriguez said.
"Here there was no military action, nor is the military in power.

"What we need to explain before our colleagues in the continent
is that this is not a coup, although the situation is obviously
not normal, legally and constitutionally, as we would wish,"
Rodriguez said.

Washington said Chavez was responsible for his own ouster because
of attempts to violently suppress Thursday's demonstration
against him.

The demonstrations were part of a strike called to support oil
executives battling Chavez management at the state oil monopoly
Petroleos de Venezuela. Venezuela is the No. 3 oil supplier to
the United States.

Chavez had ordered National Guard troops and civilian gunmen,
including rooftop snipers, to fire on the marchers, military
officers said.

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