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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 02:26 GMT 03:26 UK
Venezuela military challenge president
Tear gas surrounds the protesters
The crowds fled from the bullets and tear gas
The head of the Venezuelan army has joined a growing rebellion against President Hugo Chavez after 11 people were reported killed and 80 others injured in violent clashes in the capital, Caracas.

We do not recognise the current government regime and the authority of Hugo Chavez Frias

Generals' statement
General Efrain Vasquez said he could no longer be loyal to Mr Chavez following what he described as attacks on the Venezuelan people.

Earlier 10 senior officers announced they were setting up a parallel high command, while the head of the National Guard proposed the immediate formation of a provisional government.

Reports that the president had fled were denied by Minister of the Presidency Rafael Vargas who said Mr Chavez "is now and will always be in the presidential palace".

Correspondents say there is an uneasy calm on the streets of Caracas which on Thursday saw pitched battles between police and protesters when more than 150,000 people marched on the presidential palace demanding the president's resignation.

As violence erupted, Mr Chavez ordered troops to surround the palace and suspended the broadcasts of five private television stations in Caracas on the grounds that they were inciting people to violence.

Parallel command

"As of this moment, the government must call it quits," National Guard chief General Luis Camacho Kairuz said at a news conference in which he also announced he was resigning from his post as deputy minister for public safety.

Police and protesters
Troops have surrounded the presidential palace

He urged commanders of all four wings of the armed forces to join the rebellion describing the situation in the country as "extremely serious".

Hours earlier, the head of the Venezuelan Navy, Hector Ramirez Perez, said a group of 10 high-ranking generals were setting up a parallel high command because of what he described as Mr Chavez's anti-democratic actions.

"We have decided to speak to the Venezuelan people to tell them we do not recognise the current government regime and the authority of Hugo Chavez Frias or the military high command," said the group from the Army, Navy, National Guard and Air Force.

Chavez defiant

As clashes erupted on the streets of Caracas, Mr Chavez made a televised address.

President Hugo Chavez
Chavez remains defiant

"These [protesters] think they are going to be able to come here and get Chavez out and they think the armed forces are going to support a rebellion," he said.

"The march can't get here, with thousands of people outside, we can't permit that," he said.

A cameraman from the Reuters news agency reported seeing "snipers firing from the rooftops".

Greater Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena said they were government snipers, who were firing on the crowds.

Police fired tear gas at the marchers, who were armed with sticks and throwing rocks, to keep them about 100 metres away from the palace.

Indefinite strike

The unrest came a day after Venezuela's largest labour and business confederations announced that they will continue a 48-hour general strike indefinitely.

The strike was called last week, in support of the state oil company's workers and managers, who are protesting against the appointment of a new board by President Chavez.

Venezuela is the world's fourth largest oil exporter and on Wednesday a senior PDVSA official acknowledged for the first time that its exports had been affected.

The extended strike action could also cause more nervousness in the global oil market following Iraq's decision to suspend oil exports for 30 days.

Iraq and Venezuela jointly export about 4.5 million barrels of oil per day. Venezuela alone exports nearly one million barrels of crude oil daily to the United States.

The BBC's Andrew Webb
"There have been deaths and many people wounded"
The BBC's Adam Easton in Caracas
"It would appear that Mr Chavez's authority is fatally wounded"
See also:

07 Apr 02 | Americas
Venezuela's escalating oil dispute
05 Apr 02 | Business
Venezuelans hit by oil crisis
05 Apr 02 | Business
Venezuela oil dispute escalates
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