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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 22:28 GMT
Venezuela gets civilian defence minister

In a surprise move, the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, has removed the country's defence minister, General Ismael Hurtado, and appointed the foreign minister in his place.

General Hurtado had been under fire since last month for ordering the arrest of a lawyer who criticised the military.

His replacement, Jose Vicente Rangel, is the first civilian to be put in charge of the armed forces since 1929.

In a BBC interview, Mr Rangel said his appointment would bring civilians and the military closer together.

He denied that Mr Chavez, a former paratrooper, was intent on using the armed forces to strengthen his hold on power.

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