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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 03:00 GMT 04:00 UK
Chavez opposition sceptical of change
Two Venezuelan national guardsmen as they patrol the working class neighbourhood of Catia in Caracas
The US warns that Venezuela is currently "volatile and unpredictable"
Opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who survived a 48-hour coup at the weekend, have voiced scepticism about his offer of dialogue.


Chavez is like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Pablo Medina, Chavez former aide and critic
But the head of the Organisation of American States, Cesar Gaviria, who met the Venezuelan president in Caracas on Tuesday, urged Venezuelans to express their dissent constitutionally and not through coups.

"Polarisation has to give way to reconciliation and understanding," said Mr Gaviria, who also met representatives of the Catholic Church and opposition figures.

The OAS plans to hold a General Assembly session on Thursday to discuss the crisis in Venezuela.

Distrust

On Monday, President Chavez expressed public regret for "excesses" during his three years in office.

He promised dialogue with his opposition, but they said they mistrusted the offer.

"I don't believe it... Good intentions are not enough," Enrique Capriles of the Primero Justicia opposition party and mayor of Caracas' Baruta district was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, left, shakes hands with the Secretary-General of the Organisation of American States, Cesar Gaviria
Gaviria, right, said it remained to be seen how Chavez put his promise of dialogue into practice
Another opposition party, Accion Democratica, blamed Mr Chavez for the death of 17 demonstrators in protests that led up to the brief coup.

"We don't recognise him as head of state," said the party's secretary-general, Rafael Marin.

Other opponents said they did not believe Mr Chavez would change.

"I don't believe it at all. Chavez is like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde," said Pablo Medina, a former aide of the president and now one of his fiercest critics.

Conciliatory tone

But Chavez did receive support from Roman Catholic Cardinal Ignacio Velazco, who quoted the president as saying he had learned a lesson from the coup attempt.

"He also promised me that... for the good of the country, [he] was going to rectify many things and also lead the nation in a different way so it would be calm and peaceful," the cardinal told local television.

Mr Gaviria said it remained to be seen how Mr Chavez put his promise of dialogue into practice.

"I see he has a good attitude, is showing a conciliatory tone," he told Reuters.

US diplomats recalled

The US State Department on Tuesday withdrew all non-essential diplomats and their dependents from the country, and warned Americans to avoid travelling there.

A spokeswoman told the BBC that the order was a precautionary move, amid fears of renewed political violence.

The warning says Venezuela is currently a "volatile and unpredictable" country for Americans to visit.

The United States has withheld support for Mr Chavez, saying his return to power does not amount to a full restoration of Venezuelan democracy.

US denies coup involvement

The Bush administration on Tuesday denied encouraging the ousting of President Chavez.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Tuesday that officials had met Venezuelan opposition leaders but had told them they would not support a coup.

"Our message has been consistent. The political situation in Venezuela is one for the Venezuelans to resolve peacefully, democratically and constitutionally," Mr Fleischer said.

Mr Chavez said a plane with US registration numbers was at an army airstrip on Venezuela's Orchila Island, one of five places he was held in captivity during his brief removal from power.

Mr Chavez has also upset the Bush administration by announcing that Venezuela - the world's fourth largest oil producer - will continue supplying oil to Cuba.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Raphael Jesurum
"The past few days have shown how deep divisions in Venezuelan society run"
Larry Birns, US Council on Hemispheric Affairs
"Chavez will be in the crosshairs of US foreign policy as long as he shows admiration for Castro"
See also:

15 Apr 02 | Americas
Washington's Chavez dilemma
15 Apr 02 | Business
Oil prices rise on Chavez return
14 Apr 02 | Media reports
Chavez calls for national unity
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