Tens of thousands of supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez marched on Saturday to demand the extradition by the United States of a Cuban exile wanted by Caracas for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people.
The protest came one day after the United States rejected Venezuela's request that Luis Posada Carriles, a militant foe of Cuban President Fidel Castro with Venezuelan citizenship, be arrested with a view to extradite him to the South American nation.
Blowing whistles and carrying banners reading "No to Yankee terrorism," protesters and government officials marched with Cuban relatives of the bombing victims through the streets of the capital city.
"We are marching ... for the deportation of the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles," Jorge Herrera, a 45-year-old employee of state oil company PDVSA, said as loudspeakers on passing trucks blared "Bush: fascist, murderer, imperialist".
Venezuela's initial request was denied because it was "clearly inadequate" and lacked supporting evidence, a U.S. State Department official said Friday.
But a fresh request against the former CIA collaborator, accused of plotting the airplane bombing from Venezuela, can be made if more evidence is provided. Venezuela's Embassy in Washington has said it plans to provide more documents.
Chavez, a fierce critic of U.S. policies and ally of Castro, warned a week ago if Washington does not send Posada to Caracas he may reconsider Venezuela's ties with the United States, the top buyer of the OPEC nation's crude oil.
The Posada case has presented the U.S. government with a dilemma of how to reconcile traditional sympathy for influential Cuban exiles with Washington's tough anti-terrorism stance following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Relations between Venezuela and the United States have deteriorated since Chavez first won the presidency of the world's No. 5 oil exporter in 1998 and strengthened ties with anti-U.S. states such as Cuba.
Posada, who was on the CIA payroll for years, has already been arrested on charges of entering the United States illegally in March. He denies involvement in the Cuban airliner bombing.
Posada was twice cleared by Venezuelan courts for plotting the airplane bombing before he escaped from a Caracas prison in 1985 disguised as a priest while awaiting the outcome of a prosecutor's appeal.
Against a banners reading "Stop terrorism made in the USA," the marchers held a ceremony in eastern Caracas to remember the victims of the airplane bombing.
They were also marching to support PDVSA, which has faced charges of corruption and mismanagement from opponents of Chavez in recent weeks.
In a separate march, hundreds of foes of the left-wing leader took to the streets in Caracas in defense of political prisoners in Venezuela, taking a route that partially traced the government march. Police kept the two marches apart.
"We want to ... unmask the hypocritical and fraudulent government of the United States that on one hand condemns terrorism and on the other protects terrorists," Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel told reporters during the march.