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Thousands Try to Pay Chavez Fine

July 22, 1999

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Thousands of supporters of President Hugo Chavez demonstrated outside Venezuela’s Electoral Council on Thursday and tried to pay a fine imposed on Chavez for violating campaign laws.

The people, many wearing the president’s trademark red paratroopers’ beret, stuffed cardboard boxes with cash in a show of support.

The council fined Chavez $7,700 last week, saying he was illegally using his weekly TV and radio shows to campaign for candidates in next Sunday’s election for a constituent assembly.

``We came today to pay the fine and on Sunday we will be paid back with a great victory for President Chavez,″ said Yuribi Gonzalez, a housewife interviewed on the Union Radio network.

The amount collected was not immediately known.

Chavez proposed the constituent assembly, which will rewrite the constitution, to overhaul what he calls a corrupt political culture. But opposition leaders say what he really wants is to grab more power for himself and impose a military dictatorship in Venezuela.

Chavez, who took office in February, was the leader of violent coup attempt in 1992. Polls say he enjoys a popularity rating of more than 70 percent.

On Thursday, a coalition of 17 rights groups warned that Chavez’s plan for a new constitution could infringe on human rights in Venezuela.

``It will be very costly if the country takes a step backwards in the area of human rights,″ said lawyer Liliana Ortega, one of the coalition leaders. ``If it is necessary, I think international human rights groups will act immediately.″

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