Archive for Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Venezuela sinks deeper into turmoil

December 11, 2002

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— Supporters of Hugo Chavez surged into the streets Tuesday for a second straight night of raucous protests - trying to drown out opposition demands that the leftist president give up power.

Hundreds of "Chavistas," as the president's followers are known, ringed the headquarters of the private Globovision television network and rallied at the headquarters of the state oil monopoly.

The new protests came amid the tumult of a nine-day-old national opposition strike that has created shortages of food and drinking water and disrupted the country's oil industry. Earlier Tuesday, thousands of opposition demonstrators marched in the capital, Caracas, to protest Chavista demonstrations at media outlets and an assault by Chavez supporters on a regional branch of Globovision.

Tensions were further raised when nearly half the judges on the Supreme Court decided Tuesday to suspend work to protest what they said was political harassment by the Chavez government.

Eight of 20 magistrates plan to work only on urgent cases of national interest, said Magistrate Alberto Martini. The protest :quot; which would disrupt most court work - came after the pro-Chavez Congress fired court vice president Franklin Arriechi, saying he wasn't qualified.

Martini accused secret police of investigating justices as part of a campaign of "threats and harassment."

There was no immediate government reaction to the judges' announcement.

Chavez had long controlled the Supreme Court, but that changed in August when justices defied Chavez by absolving four high-ranking military officers of charges that they led an April coup.

Labor, business and opposition political groups called the strike on Dec. 2 to demand an early referendum on Chavez's presidency, which is scheduled to end in 2007. They upped their demand to Chavez's ouster after three people were killed and 28 wounded at an opposition rally on Friday. No one has been charged in the shootings.

The strike has paralyzed the oil industry, which provides 70 percent of Venezuela's export revenue and is a key supplier to the United States. The government has dispatched troops to take over gasoline deliveries and guard against unrest in Caracas.

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