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Political Violence in Venezuela

January 6, 2002

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Dozens of supporters of President Hugo Chavez attacked opposition lawmakers trying to leave Venezuela’s legislature following a marathon session late Saturday.

Supporters of the president, known as ``chavistas,″ attacked the legislators _ shoving, hitting and in some cases throwing rocks _ after a nine-hour session that ended with a Chavez ally’s re-election as president of the National Assembly.

Hundreds of police officers and National Guardsmen were deployed to keep the violence from spreading. Several lawmakers and journalists were hurt, but no serious injuries were reported.

Chavez called the violence a ``warning″ to the opposition ``and its absurd and evil intention″ of trying to destabilize his government. He threatened to deploy supporters on ``every street corner″ to ``defend the revolution,″ as the leftist leader refers to his policies.

``We have to be ready to take the streets,″ Chavez, whose power base is the nation’s poor majority, told supporters late Saturday in a poor Caracas neighborhood.

Enrique Marquez, a member of the Radical Cause opposition party, who was attacked, accused the president and his congressional allies of promoting the violence outside the legislature.

Nicolas Maduro, a member of Chavez’ Fifth Republic Movement party, denied the allegation, saying the violence was ``a spontaneous protest against a political class that destroyed the country″ before Chavez came to power. ``And now they want to take control of the assembly,″ he said.

The violence came after Chavez ally Willian Lara was re-elected as assembly president by an 85-73 vote.

Several lawmakers in Chavez’ party have recently assumed dissident positions and begun negotiating with opposition groups, but a pro-Chavez coalition still holds more than half of the assembly’s 165 seats.

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