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1 Slain, 15 Hurt at Venezuela Rally

As violence resurges, Jimmy Carter meets with President Chavez and the opposition in an attempt to ease the nation's political crisis.

January 21, 2003|From Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — Former President Carter renewed efforts to mediate Venezuela's political crisis Monday even as violence surged again between supporters and opponents of President Hugo Chavez. Gunfire at a protest march left one dead and 15 wounded, officials said.

Miranda state Gov. Enrique Mendoza, a Chavez opponent, said Chavez supporters attacked an opposition march in Charallave, about 20 miles south of Caracas, the capital, on the 50th day of a general strike against the president.

Raul Gonzalez, 38, said that he and other Chavez supporters blocked a road as opposition marchers approached and that both sides began tossing rocks and bottles.

"I heard shots and fell down," Gonzalez said at the hospital where he was being treated for a bullet wound in his leg. "There were shots from all over. Everything was in confusion."

Opposition marcher Mayordina Morales, 52, said both sides were throwing things when police began shooting. The man who was fatally shot was identified by officials as Carlos Garcia, 30.

Fifteen people were wounded by gunfire, said Milagros Toro, an official with the state epidemiology department. Twelve people suffered other injuries.

Carter met Monday with Chavez, opposition figures and Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States. Gaviria has tried since November to mediate an electoral solution to the crisis.

Chavez has threatened to abandon the talks. On Sunday, he accused the opposition of trying to oust him even as its leaders sat at the negotiating table.

"We don't talk with terrorists," Chavez said.

Opposition parties, business leaders and labor unions launched the strike to demand that Chavez resign or call early elections.

The National Elections Council accepted an opposition petition and agreed to organize a Feb. 2 nonbinding referendum asking citizens whether Chavez should step down. Chavez says the constitution does not allow for a binding referendum until halfway through his six-year term, or August.

The Supreme Court is considering the matter.

The strike has slashed Venezuela's oil production by more than two-thirds and caused severe shortages of gasoline, food and drinking water.

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