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Explosion Doesn't Deter Chavez in Venezuela

The president vows to defeat strikers after a blast kills one person and wounds 15 near a pro-government rally.

January 24, 2003|From Reuters

CARACAS, Venezuela — An explosion killed one person and injured 15 Thursday near a huge government rally in Caracas, where President Hugo Chavez promised to defeat a 7-week-old opposition strike.

Cheered by hundreds of thousands of supporters, the leftist leader threatened to close private television stations hostile to him and to take over banks joining the strike, which has slashed oil output by one of the United States' largest suppliers.

"Let's go on the attack on all fronts," Chavez bellowed, his face flushed.

The populist president, who is resisting opposition calls to resign and hold early elections, went ahead with the rally despite the explosion, which occurred several blocks away before he began speaking.

Fire Chief Rodolfo Briceno said a 45-year-old man was killed. Most of the injured were hit by shrapnel.

No one claimed responsibility, and police were investigating.

The blast marred what had been a peaceful demonstration called to show support for Chavez and oppose the strike.

Chavez said he had sacked more than 3,000 employees of the state oil company, who were the backbone of the strike.

The president, a former paratrooper who was elected in 1998 and survived a coup last year, said that if private banks refused to operate normally, they could be taken over.

During the strike, most banks have been operating with limited hours.

Chavez also threatened to revoke the broadcast licenses of private TV stations if they did not stop transmitting what he called violent, biased programming.

Foes accuse Chavez of governing like a dictator and of dragging the nation toward Cuban-style communism. His backers hail him as a champion of the poor in a country whose oil wealth has failed to prevent widespread poverty.

Thursday's blast rekindled fears of violence. At least seven people have now been killed in clashes since the strike began Dec. 2.

To avoid confrontation Thursday, opposition supporters stayed at home, following instructions from their leaders.

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