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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 23:45 GMT 00:45 UK
Venezuelan coup leader quizzed
Anti-Carmona protesters
Protesters turned out to denounce Carmona
A congressional inquiry in Venezuela into last month's failed coup against President Hugo Chavez has been hearing testimony from the businessman who briefly replaced him.

During questioning, Pedro Carmona denied that there had been a rebellion or a coup - saying the Venezuelan military had merely asked him to fill a power vacuum and form a transitional government.

I have been an opponent, but never a conspirator

Pedro Carmona
Mr Carmona proclaimed himself president after violent anti-government protests which resulted in 17 deaths. Mr Chavez was reinstalled 48 hours later after demonstrations by his supporters.

The United States has acknowledged that it knew a coup was being planned, but has denied encouraging it to take place.

Power vacuum

"There was no rebellion or coup d'etat against the president - there was a power vacuum," businessman Mr Carmona told a legislative committee investigating the 12 April coup.

At the time Mr Chavez was arrested and removed from the presidential palace by military leaders.

The next day Mr Carmona claimed power and dissolved the legislature and courts, dismissing top prosecutors and ombudsmen.

Pedro Carmona
Carmona claims it was an act of patriotism
But Mr Carmona insists he took control at the urging of the military in a spontaneous act of patriotism - only assuming the presidency after the military publicly announced Mr Chavez had resigned.

"I was called to fill a power vacuum that had occurred and to form a transitional government," he said.

"I have been an opponent, but never a conspirator," he added.

Foreign involvement

During his three hours of questioning Mr Carmona denied any "foreign governments" were involved in the removal of Mr Chavez from power.

The US administration has been criticised for meeting with some opposition figures in the months before the coup and appearing to accept the coup when it happened.

Chavez was reinstated two days later

Mr Carmona's decision to assume power has met with anger from many of the people of Venezuela, some of whom gathered outside the congressional hearing to protest.

"He's a coup plotter and an assassin. He should be put before a firing squad as a traitor," said Miriam Sanchez, holding a sign that read "Kill him".

Mr Carmona, previously the head of Venezuela's largest business federation, now faces up to 20 years in prison.

See also:

13 Apr 02 | Americas
Profile: Pedro Carmona
15 Apr 02 | Americas
Washington's Chavez dilemma
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