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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 04:01 GMT
Clashes erupt on Venezuela streets
Clashes in Barquisimeto
Fighting broke out during a union march in Barquisimeto
Supporters and opponents of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez have fought street battles in the capital Caracas and other cities.

Several people were reported injured.

Getting rid of Chavez is more difficult than trying to knock down a mule by pinching it

President Hugo Chavez
Police were called in when fighting broke out in Barquisimeto on Wednesday between supporters of President Chavez and members of Venezuela's Workers Confederation (CTV), the country's largest trade union.

Chavez supporters prevented a march by about 2,000 CTV members from approaching the Lara State Government headquarters.

The rival groups pelted each other with stones and bottles.

Union leaders have been threatening to call a general strike over Mr Chavez's policies.

Students protest

The Lara State Governor, Luis Reyes, a close associate of the president, accused the union of trying to "destabilise" the government.

"We have always known that the opposition groups are the aggressors," he said.

But CTV president Carlos Ortega blamed the trouble on Chavez supporters.

President Chavez
President Chavez: Critics say his reforms are wrecking the economy
There were also confrontations outside the presidential palace in Caracas when university students demanding more government funding clashed with pro-Chavez activists.

"There was a scrap with sticks and stones and punches and there were injuries," Metropolitan Police Operations Chief Emigdio Delgado said.

In the south-western city of Valera, National Guard troops intervened when striking local police officers failed to stop rioting youths from looting banks, offices and shops.

Mr Chavez taunted his opponents when he made a speech in eastern Venezuela on Wednesday.

"Getting rid of Chavez is more difficult than trying to knock down a mule by pinching it," he said. "No one overthrows Chavez."

The president later flew on to the UN's international development conference in Monterrey, Mexico.

Venezuela has become deeply divided over its controversial president.

Mr Chavez's opponents say his "leftist reforms" are damaging the country, but his supporters say his policies will improve the lives of Venezuelans, most of whom live in poverty.

See also:

27 Feb 02 | Americas
Venezuela divided over Chavez
26 Feb 02 | Americas
Chavez unmoved as officers desert
18 Feb 02 | Americas
Third officer demands Chavez quit
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
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