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Venezuelan Dissidents Rebuke Chavez

October 25, 2002

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Cheered by thousands of civilians, a rising number of dissident military officers demanded that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez resign after he accused them of trying to instigate a coup.

Among them was Gen. Manuel Rosendo, former operations commander for the armed forces.

``You don’t represent us. You massacre us, and you are killing us with hunger,″ said Rosendo, dismissed from his post after refusing Chavez’s orders to deploy troops against an opposition march.

Nineteen people died in the April 11 march, many of them victims of pro-Chavez gunmen. Rosendo joined others in ousting Chavez on April 12. Chavez was restored April 14 after interim President Pedro Carmona dissolved Venezuela’s constitution.

Army Gen. Enrique Medina Gomez said at least 80 officials have joined the protest, which began Tuesday with a call for rebellion by 14 officers. Gen. Rene Sericia Garcia told El Nacional newspaper that 700 soldiers backed the uprising but could not speak out because the army had confined them to barracks.

Rosendo accused Chavez late Thursday of converting the armed forces into little more than a militia supposed to serve only Chavez ``and a revolution that no one understands.″

``We have a president who doesn’t want to govern″ but only wants power, Rosendo thundered. He urged labor, business, civic and political leaders to continue pressing Chavez to resign and for new elections.

Across town, hundreds of Chavez supporters rallied for their president at a park near the presidential palace.

Venezuela is deadlocked between Chavez, elected in 1998 on a poverty-fighting platform, and a frustrated opposition that wants a fast vote to ease social tensions and measure Chavez’s support. The opposition claims Chavez has divided the nation with class-warfare rhetoric and cannot manage an economy mired in recession.

The Organization of American States and United Nations have sent mediators to try to avert more violence in this oil-producing nation, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and a major supplier to the United States. OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria will try again Sunday.

Chavez accused the dissidents Thursday of inciting a coup under the guise of a constitutional provision allowing citizens to rebel against an undemocratic government.

Like Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, who described the officers as ``clowns,″ Chavez dismissed the rally in an eastern Caracas plaza as ``a show.″

An angry army Gen. Julio Lara Guzman told cheering civilians: ``All of you here are not in a show, and we are not clowns.″

A group of national guardsmen, led by Brig. Gen. Jose Rodriguez Infante, echoed the point as they, too, declared themselves in rebellion.

Chavez said he was encouraged that some opposition leaders were ``showing signs of reason″ by distancing themselves from coup-plotting and collecting signatures for a referendum on his rule.

But he did not respond to demands that he call a vote in December. He has said the constitution allows a binding referendum on his rule in 2003, halfway into his six-year term.

Just this month, Chavez has faced two alleged assassination plots, an alleged coup plot, a general strike and a massive opposition march. He has responded with a march of his own. Now the opposition plans a Nov. 4 march to deliver 1.5 million signatures demanding a referendum.

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