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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 04:21 GMT
Venezuelans march against president
Venezuelans opposing President Chavez demonstrate outside the presidential palace in Caracas
Anti-Chavez feelings have been building
Thousands of people have taken to the streets of the Venezuelan capital to support an air force colonel who has called for the resignation of President Hugo Chavez.

The protesters gathered in Caracas after military police attempted to arrest the officer, Colonel Pedro Soto.

Venezuelan Air Force Colonel Pedro Soto
Military chiefs deny Colonel Soto's views are shared
The colonel urged the demonstrators to follow him to Mr Chavez's residence to demand that he step down.

It is the second protest this week against President Chavez, who is accused by his opponents of acting like an autocrat.

Many of those who took to the streets said they came out in support of the colonel after they saw television pictures of the police attempt to detain him.

They chanted "Chavez Out! Chavez Out!" as they rallied in Altamira Plaza where Colonel Soto stood on top of a car, waving a red, yellow and blue Venezuelan flag.

The demonstrators then headed towards the presidential residence.

Hugo Chavez
Under Chavez, the military has assumed a prominent role in government
The action by the police followed remarks made by Colonel Soto when he made an unexpected appearance at a democracy forum earlier on Thursday.

He accused Mr Chavez of controlling the country's parliament, supreme court and armed forces.

After a tense stand-off lasting more than an hour, the military police allowed him to go on his way.

The BBC's Adam Easton in Caracas says Colonel Soto's comments will fuel speculation that there is growing discontent in the military over Mr Chavez, whose popularity has dropped sharply in recent months to around 35%.

However the head of the armed forces, General Lucas Rincon, denied that Colonel Soto's criticisms reflect the position of the military.

Once a hero

On Monday, hundreds of people protested against Mr Chavez's celebration of his failed attempt to overthrow President Carlos Andres Perez 10 years ago.

Earlier this week senior United States officials questioned Mr Chavez's understanding of democracy and said there were signs he supported Colombia's guerrilla groups.

President Chavez says opposition to him and his social reforms stems from the news media, who he accuses of being against his efforts to redistribute wealth to the poor. He has also made personal attacks on the country's business leaders and trades unions.

Mr Chavez's coup attempt 10 years ago made him a hero among millions of Venezuelans tired of political corruption and growing hardship.

He went on to be elected president in a landslide victory in 1998, promising to alleviate widespread poverty.

See also:

04 Feb 02 | Americas
Chavez marks his failed coup
24 Jan 02 | Americas
Rival marches in Venezuelan capital
25 Jan 02 | Americas
Chavez reshuffle defies protesters
16 Dec 01 | Americas
Chavez warns Venezuela banks
10 Dec 01 | Americas
Strike closes Venezuelan cities
31 Jul 00 | Americas
Chavez: Visionary or demagogue?
28 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Venezuela
08 Feb 02 | Business
Venezuela devaluation fears mount
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