Jorge Silva  /  REUTERS
Venezuelan opposition protesters hold up flags Thursday during a silent protest to honor the memory of recent victims of violence, in front of Supreme Court of Justice in Caracas.
updated 3/4/2004 10:22:06 PM ET 2004-03-05T03:22:06

Hundreds of opponents of President Hugo Chavez marched Thursday in the capital, demanding the release of some 350 people arrested during a week of protests and rioting that have left at least eight dead.

The latest death occurred in a protest Thursday in the western town of Machiques, when gunfire from an undetermined source killed a 50-year-old woman, a National Guard statement said. The violence came as some 400 opposition protesters clashed with the guardsmen.

Chanting “Freedom! Freedom!” demonstrators in Caracas held up photographs of a prominent opposition politician, Carlos Melo, who was detained on charges of weapons possession.

Opposition leaders claim 350 people were arrested in five days of rioting in Venezuela, the world’s No. 5 oil exporter. Anti-Chavez forces have been angered by the National Elections Council’s decision to turn down a petition for a vote to recall Chavez.

Assaults alleged
“It’s not enough that they steal our signatures. They also have to rob Venezuelans of our peace and physical safety,” said opposition leader Antonio Ledezma.

The opposition claimed some people had been beaten.

Denying any mistreatment, Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said the arrests were necessary to restore order after protesters burned tires and lobbed firebombs at National Guard troops.

In New York, Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations on Thursday announced his resignation to protest what he believed to be human rights violations and threats to democracy at home. Milos Alcalay had represented Venezuela for 30 years.

“I cannot remain indifferent before the sad events in my country, the loss of many lives and the outcry of the Venezuelan people whose political and civil rights are under threat,” Alcalay said.

Violence subsides
During the height of the rioting in Caracas, Chavez opponents blocked roads, burned tires and lobbed firebombs at National Guard troops trying to disperse the protests with tear gas. The violence largely subsided Wednesday after some opposition leaders and international observers urged calm.

Chavez, who survived a 2002 coup and a general strike last year that ruined the economy, has warned he won’t tolerate attempts to destabilize Venezuela.

The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States, urged Venezuela’s government to respect the “fundamental rights of those who have been detained.”

The opposition appealed to the OAS and the U.S.-based Carter Center, which observed the recall petition process, to reverse Tuesday’s ruling denying them a vote on Chavez’s rule. On Thursday, OAS representatives met with the opposition and election officials.

One nation, two views
The South American nation of 24 million people is torn between Venezuelans who say Chavez has become increasingly autocratic and those who say he speaks for the poor.

Chavez was re-elected to a six-year term in 2000. If he loses in a referendum held before mid-August, the midway point for his term, new presidential elections must be held. But if he loses in a vote held after mid-August, Rangel would take over for the rest of his term.

Opponents fear if that happens, Chavez would merely rule behind his right-hand man for the rest of his term.

The opposition handed in more than 3 million signatures in December to demand the recall. About 2.4 million are required for a vote.

But the elections council said Tuesday only 1.8 million signatures were valid and that another 1.1 million may be authentic — but only if citizens come forward to confirm they signed.

The council rejected 140,000 signatures outright.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments