Venezuela troops seize weapons from Caracas cops

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Wed Jan 15 10:38:22 MST 2003

 From: prompt prompt at>
 Venezuelan Troops Seize Police Weapons (excerpt)

 The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Soldiers loyal to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
 seized heavy weapons and anti-riot equipment Tuesday from Caracas' police
 force, which the government accused of siding with Chavez's opponents.

Critics called the move another attempt by Chavez to weaken Greater Caracas
 Mayor Alfredo Pena, one of Chavez's most vocal critics. Chavez insists the
 9,000-strong Caracas police force, which reports to Pena, routinely
 suppresses pro-government demonstrations.

Troops searched several police stations at dawn Tuesday, confiscating
 submachine guns as well as .12-caliber rifles used to fire rubber bullets
 tear gas, said Cmdr. Freddy Torres, the department's legal consultant.
 Officers were allowed to keep their standard issue .38-caliber pistols.

Police said they were still determining the total number of weapons seized.
 Defense Ministry spokesman declined to comment on the confiscations.

The seizure could raise tensions in a 44-day-old general strike aimed at
 ousting Chavez, which has been marked by almost daily street protests,
 including clashes between Chavez supporters and opponents.

``We don't understand this action,'' police chief Henry Vivas told Union
 Radio. ``This leaves us at a tremendous disadvantage against criminals.
 Instead of disarming criminals, they disarm the police. It's outrageous.''
 Also seized was anti-riot equipment like tear gas canisters and rubber

The weapons raids came hours after Chavez's government restored Pena's
 authority over the police on Monday, Torres said.

Chavez ordered the military to take control of the police department in
 November, arguing police brutally repressed his supporters during protests.
 Pena says Chavez sympathizers attack police and that crime has risen since
 the military took control.

Vivas said the confiscation violated a Supreme Court ruling ordering the
 government to return the force to the mayor's control.

``The police cannot act like protectors of a political side,'' Vice
 Jose Vicente Rangel told foreign reporters Tuesday. ``It's not right that
 each time (police) go out on the streets, it's to create victims.''

Rangel would not provide details on the raids.

01/14/03 12:50 EST

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