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Sunday, 17 November, 2002, 06:52 GMT
Power struggle for Caracas police
National Guard outside police HQ
The National Guard took over several police buildings
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has used troops to take control of the police force in the capital, Caracas, from its mayor.


I've been the victim of a coup d'etat by the government

Alfredo Pena
Mayor of Caracas
Shots were reportedly fired around police headquarters between supporters and opponents of the takeover.

The Caracas force has been told to report directly to the national government, and not to the anti-Chavez mayor, Alfredo Pena.

The president's move came in the wake of clashes between the police and pro-Chavez demonstrators earlier in the week.

Mr Pena said the takeover was illegal and that he had been the victim of a coup d'etat. He called on residents to take to the streets to protest against the move.

National opposition leaders also condemned it as unconstitutional, saying it could disrupt peace talks.

Hugo Chavez
Chavez's move was condemned as unconstitutional
"This situation is a snub to the negotiation process," said a statement by the opposition Coordinadora Democratica coalition.

The talks, the first since Mr Chavez was briefly deposed in a coup in April, began a week ago to break the country's political deadlock.

But in renewed violence earlier this week, two people died and several dozen were injured during running battles between the Caracas police and pro-Chavez demonstrators.

Internal dispute

Thousands of troops loyal to the president were brought to the streets of the capital on Wednesday in response to the violence.

And on Saturday, Interior Minister Diosdado Cabello ordered the city's police force, which numbers more than 8,000, to report directly to the government.

National guard troops took control of several police stations in the capital, but some residents came out banging pots and pans to protest their presence.

A new police director was appointed, but resigned immediately and swore allegiance to Mr Pena. Another director was hastily brought in but it is not clear whether he will have the support of the rank-and-file.

The government said the move was made to end a dispute between police officers which led a pro-Chavez sergeant to seize a key precinct in October.

Mr Chavez, who was elected in 1998, has been resisting pressure to hold a referendum on his rule.

The opposition has accused him of dictatorial behaviour and mismanaging the oil-rich nation's economy.


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08 Nov 02 | Americas
20 Oct 02 | Americas
14 Oct 02 | Americas
09 Jun 02 | Americas
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