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Military Officers in Venezuela Call for Citizens to Rise Up

Vice president says the country is calm. Opposition wants to oust President Chavez.

October 23, 2002|From Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — A group of 14 military officers, including nine accused of leading an April coup, urged Venezuelans on Tuesday to rise up against President Hugo Chavez with nationwide protests.

But the vice president said that "absolutely nothing is happening" and that the country is calm.

The officers called on soldiers and citizens to join them in an impromptu protest in an eastern Caracas plaza, which they declared a "territory liberated by the armed forces." Several hundred citizens rallied at the plaza.

"We declare ourselves in legitimate disobedience and don't recognize the current regime," said army Gen. Enrique Medina Gomez, reading a statement on national television. "We call on all components of the armed forces to accompany us on this mission."

The rebellion call came a day after the opposition staged a general strike that closed thousands of businesses and called for a referendum on Chavez's rule, charging that the fiery leftist former paratrooper is mismanaging the economy and polarizing Venezuelan society.

Chavez, who has angered Washington with anti-U.S. rhetoric and his ties with Cuba's Fidel Castro, was ousted for two days in April by dissident officers before being swept back to power.

Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said Tuesday that the country was "totally calm."

"We've been in contact with every barracks throughout the country, with every command -- the air force, the army, navy and national guard -- and there is absolutely nothing happening," Rangel said. "Every commander totally repudiated these coup plotters."

Army Gen. Raul Baduel -- who dispatched troops to restore Chavez during the coup and is one of the most powerful figures in the military -- told reporters in the central city of Maracay that his division had government orders "to be ready to act at any moment, anywhere."

There were no reports of unusual troop movements.

Rangel said the government would allow the officers to speak to the crowd in Altamira Plaza but that they will be prosecuted.

The United States has voiced its opposition to any use of force either to oust or preserve Chavez's democratically elected government.

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