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Venezuelan Leader Leads Rally Against Recall

August 09, 2004|From Reuters

CARACAS, Venezuela — A week before Venezuelans vote on recalling President Hugo Chavez, the populist leftist leader led a rally of hundreds of thousands of supporters Sunday and said the election would be a contest between himself and "U.S. imperialism."

Chavez joined the crowd in Caracas, the capital, in a noisy chorus of "Noooooo!" urging Venezuelans to vote against the recall effort Sunday.

In a rambling, three-hour speech mixing songs, poetry, history and Bible quotes, Chavez defended his rule as a revolutionary crusade to help Venezuela's poor and stop U.S. meddling in one of the world's top oil exporters.

"We mustn't forget that we're facing U.S. imperialism," he said. A vote against his recall, he added, would be "Christ's vote against imperialism."

Since he was elected in 1998, six years after leading a failed coup, Chavez's rule has split Venezuela between foes who see him as a bullying demagogue and supporters who hail him as a champion of the poor.

U.S. officials have criticized his alliance with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Chavez accuses the U.S. of being behind a failed 2002 coup in Venezuela and funding groups seeking the referendum on his rule. Washington rejects the accusations.

To recall Chavez, the opposition must equal or beat the 3.76 million votes he received when he was reelected in 2000.

If Chavez loses the referendum, a presidential election will be held within 30 days.

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