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Chavez Takes Over Caracas City Police

November 17, 2002|From Reuters

CARACAS, Venezuela — The government of President Hugo Chavez sent troops and armored vehicles Saturday to seize control of the Caracas city police from the capital's anti-Chavez mayor, drawing furious condemnation from political opponents.

Earlier, gunfights broke out between rival police factions before National Guard troops backed by personnel carriers armed with machine guns deployed to take over police headquarters and other major stations around the city.

The takeover inflamed the long-running political feud between leftist Chavez and foes opposed to his self-proclaimed revolution in Venezuela. Interior Minister Diosdado Cabello ordered the autonomous 8,000-member city police to report to Chavez's government instead of to Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena, a die-hard foe of the populist president.

Around police headquarters in Caracas' northern Cotiza neighborhood, officers loyal to Pena and opposed to the takeover exchanged fire with colleagues inside the building who supported the move. Heavy gunfire echoed in the streets around the headquarters. No injuries were immediately reported.

The government said the takeover was necessary to guarantee law and order in the capital and the smooth running of the city's police, which had been hit by a strike by some officers.

"I'm the victim of a coup d'etat by the government," Pena said, refusing to accept the takeover of his police force.

Chavez, who was democratically elected in 1998 and survived a short-lived coup by rebel armed forces officers in April, is resisting intense opposition pressure to hold an immediate referendum on his rule.

Adding to the confusion, the new city police chief initially named by the government to take over the force abruptly resigned and declared his continued loyalty to Pena.

The government promptly named another chief, Gonzalo Sanchez, who urged all members of the force to lay down their arms and accept the government takeover.

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