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Monday, 18 February, 2002, 16:34 GMT
Third officer demands Chavez quit
Anti-Chavez demonstrators
Opponents accuse Chavez of being autocratic
A top-ranking Venezuelan officer has denounced President Hugo Chavez as "unpatriotic" and has added his voice to the calls for him to resign.

Navy vice-admiral Carlos Molina Tamayo accused Mr Chavez and his allies of seeking to impose a totalitarian regime in Venezuela.

Attacks on Chavez
18 February: Vice-Admiral Carlos Molina Tamayo accuses him of harming national interests
8 February: Captain Pedro Flores labels him undemocratic
7 February: Colonel Pedro Sota calls him a tyrant

He said the president was damaging the nation's interests by soliciting closer ties to Cuba and other communist or leftist governments while steering it away from traditional allies such as the United States.

Admiral Molina Tamayo's criticisms followed calls for Mr Chavez to quit by other officers.

Those comments sparked protests by thousands of people who marched to the presidential residence demanding Mr Chavez's resignation.

We demand a truly democratic system

Vice-Admiral Carlos Molina Tamayo
Last week, Mr Chavez dismissed the threat of a military rebellion and branded those who spoke against him as "traitors".

Armed forces chiefs have insisted their troops remain loyal to the president.

Admiral Molina Tamayo urged more colleagues to join the opposition to the president, whose popularity has declined since he was elected by an overwhelming majority in 1998.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Mr Chavez claims the support of the military
"I publicly state my rejection of the conduct of President Chavez and his regime," said the naval chief, serving as the ambassador to Greece.

Admiral Molina Tamayo is the highest-ranking officer to demand that Mr Chavez, a former army paratrooper, resign.

He urged Venezuelans to save their democracy. He condemned:

  • "a lack of state of law"
  • Venezuela's relations with Colombian guerrillas
  • illicit "enrichment" of top officials
  • Mr Chavez's attempts to install "an extreme leftist" regime
  • Venezuelan sales to Cuba of crude oil

"We demand a truly democratic system," he said.

If Mr Chavez refused to stand down, the Supreme Court should put him on trial, the admiral said.

Capital flight

"I am calling on the national armed forces and the people to publicly show their opposition to Hugo Chavez's unpatriotic stand and for them to demand his resignation," he said in Caracas, reading from a prepared statement.

"It is absolutely essential that all parts of society join forces in this effort to recover our national dignity and freedom, demanding the establishment of a genuine democratic system."

His demands were likely to fuel more uncertainty about Venezuela's political and economic prospects.

Millions of dollars were sent abroad in a capital flight after demands for Mr Chavez's resignation earlier this month by an air force colonel, Pedro Sota, and a national guard captain, Pedro Flores, who claimed to be speaking for most of Venezuela's armed forces.

See also:

11 Feb 02 | Americas
Venezuelan rebel army officers freed
08 Feb 02 | Americas
Venezuelans march against president
04 Feb 02 | Americas
Chavez marks his failed coup
24 Jan 02 | Americas
Rival marches in Venezuelan capital
16 Dec 01 | Americas
Chavez warns Venezuela banks
13 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Venezuela
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