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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 19:46 GMT 20:46 UK
Venezuelan media: 'It's over!'
Man reading newspaper
Screaming headlines declared the end of Chavez' rule
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By Mike Ceaser
In Caracas
line

Venezuelans woke on Friday morning to screaming headlines and dramatic photos of violence and celebration.

The broadsheet El Nacional headlined "Chavez resigned" above a photo of demonstrators surrounding the corpse of one of those killed by sharpshooters.

El Universal's headline was even less ambivalent: "It's over!", it screamed in letters triple the size of its own masthead.

Protester injured in Caracas
Dramatic pictures of the night's violence filled the papers
The Venezuelan media's sentiments appeared to be a mix of relief and celebration mixed with sadness at the deaths which accompanied the following the president's dramatic fall.

Military officers turned against him, saying they were disgusted by the shootings of Mr Chavez's opponents, evidently by members of the ex-president's Bolivarian Circles.

The media had a particularly confrontational relationship with the president because of Mr Chavez's many attempts to repress media criticism and his habit of blaming it for the nation's troubles.

Split screens

During the final week of the Chavez administration, growing opposition demonstrations filled the capital's streets.

Ousted President Hugo Chavez
Channel 8 continued to back Chavez on Thursday evening
And the government interrupted media broadcasts again and again - as many as 20 times in a single day - with its own version of events, saying that the strikes and protests were failures.

The TV stations finally responded by splitting their screens in two, so that one side showed the official version calling the strikes a failure - while the other half displayed scenes of shuttered shops and vacant sidewalks.

On Friday morning, El Universal editor Andres Mata celebrated in a radio interview.

"We have returned once again to democracy!" he said. "The media must always maintain a position that is adversarial to those in power."

'Betrayal'

El Nacional, which had backed Mr Chavez until it reported his hostile reception by residents of a poor neighbourhood and the ex-president sent a violent crowd of supporters to threaten the newspaper's offices, wrote a front-page editorial roundly condemning the former leader.

Newspaper during general strike
The media had a confrontational relationship with Mr Chavez
"We already knew about your mental problems and that you were not exactly courageous," El Nacional wrote.

"But what we truly ignored was your lack of scruples in ordering your followers to fire on defenceless people... With that miserable and cruel act, you committed your worst political error and your greatest betrayal of your fatherland."

The sole exception to the general mood of relief among the media was Channel 8, the state channel, which the Chavez administration had used to declare that all was under control.

On Thursday evening, the station had carried interviews with Mr Chavez's cabinet ministers, who accused the opposition demonstrators of wanting to storm the presidential palace.

Historic day

The government channel even talked of the administration's plans for the nation.

A few hours later, it was off the air and its building mysteriously abandoned.

On Friday, the TV channel Venevision showed images of destruction attributed to Chavez supporters and interviewed the sobbing mother of a wounded journalist.

"11 April is a day which will be engraved in our memories and our history," she said.

See also:

12 Apr 02 | Americas
Venezuela army blocks Chavez exile
12 Apr 02 | Media reports
Venezuela press condemns 'autocrat' Chavez
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