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Monday, 19 August, 2002, 23:36 GMT 00:36 UK
Chavez vows to fight opposition
Venezuela's President during the rally
Chavez urges a popular offensive against the opposition
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has marked the second anniversary of his re-election by calling his supporters to fight opposition attempts to remove him from power.

At a Mass in the capital Caracas, Mr Chavez - who was briefly ousted in April's failed coup - promised to launch a popular offensive against the opposition, who wants to indict him on charges of corruption and crimes against humanity.

Clashes in Venezuela
About 60 people were killed during and after the coup
"Onward, to fight and to triumph, it's our destiny," Mr Chavez told a few hundred supporters.

The opposition - encouraged by a recent Supreme Court decision to absolve charges against four military officers accused of involvement in the coup - is also pressing for a referendum to force early elections.

"The people won't stand for a decision like this. The offensive and political initiative is in the hands of the people," Mr Chavez said.

Security forces have been deployed across Caracas, as the case has widened the already bitter political divide between Mr Chavez's allies and his foes.

Those who back the populist president say he has brought social justice to the vast underclass of poor, while his opponents accuse him of driving a wedge between the classes and of pushing the country towards recession.

Bitter divide

Mr Chavez, a 48-year-old former paratrooper, has been outraged by the Supreme Court judges' decision - in a 11-8 vote - to reject the charges against the two generals and two admirals.

One of the four officers, Vice Adm. Daniel Comisso, speaks to the press
The four officers denied charges of rebellion

He has urged his supporters to take to the streets in peaceful demonstration and to investigate the judges who voted to dismiss the case.

Government supporters had argued that if the court ruled against a trial, it would set a precedent for further uprisings.

But opposition leaders have accused Mr Chavez and his followers of trying to intimidate the court.

"We can't give any points to this corrupt government, which is starving the people," opposition spokesman Timoteo Zambrano told the Reuters news agency.

Mr Chavez was first elected in 1998 by winning a landslide on promises to fight poverty, unemployment and corruption.

He was sworn into office again in 2000 after winning fresh elections under a new constitution.


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