Venezuelan troops kill one, injure 20 in attack on Chavez supporters

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Wed Nov 13 03:39:03 MST 2002

Did the protest turn violent or the troops$  Clearly this report on the
second attack by the Venezuelan army on supporters of Chavez has the
character of a communique from the opposition to Chavez.
Fred Feldman

Venezuela Protest Turns Violent
Filed at 10:40 p.m. ET

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuelan troops clashed with pro-government
demonstrators Tuesday in violent protests that left one person dead, 20
others wounded and prompted a renewed plea for peace from the head of the
Organization of American States.

More than 400 National Guardsmen and police fought dozens of armed activist
supporters of President Hugo Chavez who had surrounded an
opposition-dominated city hall, trapping the mayor and other leaders inside
for several hours.

Protesters repeatedly fled tear gas and rubber bullets, only to regroup to
throw rocks, fire shots and burn tires in the streets.

Alcides Rondon, a city security official, said police fired rubber bullets
and the pro-Chavez activists used live ammunition to fire at officers and

A 23-year-old man killed in the clash died from gunshot wounds, Rondon said.
But it was not immediately known who fired the shot or what role, if any,
the victim had in the protest.

Thirteen other people received gunshot wounds and seven were injured by
rubber bullets, Rondon said.

The violence overshadowed peace talks several miles away mediated by Cesar
Gaviria, secretary general of the Organization of American States.

Gaviria urged the government to punish those responsible for the violence,
which raised tension during the talks. He expressed concern about a
``climate of impunity'' in the country.

As darkness fell, troops continued trading gunfire with protesters on
debris-strewn streets. Officers rescued citizens hiding inside stores. Some,
including infants, suffered tear gas exposure.

Among those trapped inside city hall for several hours were greater Caracas
Mayor Alfredo Pena, a Chavez critic; Miranda state Gov. Enrique Mendoza; and
members of an opposition political movement.

They were preparing a report for the Organization of American States on
harassment by pro-Chavez street toughs when the siege began, Globovision
television reported.

Pena blamed the violence on pro-Chavez activists and a small group of
policemen who have been striking to demand the resignation of their bosses.
Supporters of the embattled president have attacked city hall several times.

Chavez's government had no immediate comment.

It was the biggest eruption of political violence since Nov. 4, when the
president's supporters attacked an opposition march, wounding and injuring
more than 60 people. As with most violence fomented by Chavez supporters,
there were no arrests.

Chavez has said he no longer controls violent radicals, many of them members
of Chavez's so-called ``Bolivarian Circle'' neighborhood groups.

Venezuela's opposition is demanding early presidential elections.

Opposition leaders vow to call an indefinite strike if Chavez refuses to
accept a referendum on his presidency. Venezuela's constitution says a
binding referendum cannot be called until halfway into his six-year term, or
next August.

Hundreds of white-collar workers at Venezuela's state-owned oil monopoly
Petroleos de Venezuela SA demonstrated Tuesday to protest the use of company
headquarters by members of Bolivarian Circles and Chavez's Fifth Republic
Movement party for a teleconference convened by Chavez.

Dissident executives at the monopoly, which prizes its autonomy, were a key
force in an April coup that briefly toppled Chavez.

Protesting Chavez's appointment of board members, they staged a strike that
nearly halted oil production. Labor and business groups joined the protest,
which culminated in a protest march April 11. When snipers fired on the
demonstrators, killing 19, Chavez was ousted by the military. He was
reinstated two days later after counter-protests.

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