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Wednesday, 23 October, 2002, 02:36 GMT 03:36 UK
Army officers urge Venezuela rebellion
Some of the military officers with supporters at a rally held in central Caracas
The officers accused the government of corruption
A group of military officers has called on Venezuelan citizens and soldiers to rebel against President Hugo Chavez and join a protest in central Caracas

Chavez supporter holding a placard of the Venezuelan president at a rally in his support
There have been several protests, both pro- and anti-Chavez, since April
The 14 officers - some of whom were involved in an abortive coup against the Venezuelan leader in April - demanded Mr Chavez's resignation in an appearance on Venezuelan national television.

They said they no longer recognised his government.

They also accused the Venezuelan Government of being corrupt and denounced its economic policies, saying it had impoverished the lives of many in a country where more than half the population live in poverty.

Following their statement, the officers travelled to a square in central Caracas, where they held a rally with several thousand of their supporters, Reuters news agency reported.

'Nothing happening'

However the country's Vice President, Jose Vicente Rangel, dismissed the officers' actions, saying that Mr Chavez was working at his desk as normal and that the majority of armed officers rejected the officers' stand.

"We've been in contact with every barracks throughout the country, with every command - the air force, the army, navy and national guard - and there is absolutely nothing happening," he said.

"Every commander totally repudiated these coup plotters who decided to go on an adventure."

The officers' actions come a day after opposition figures in Venezuela hailed as a success a 12-hour general strike called in an attempt to force Mr Chavez to resign or call early elections.

BBC correspondent Adam Easton says that the officers' actions appear to mark a shift from such democratic courses of action.

The head of the Venezuelan Workers Confederation, Carlos Ortega, said that 85% of the country had effectively shut down during the protest, and said that the shutdown sent a message to Mr Chavez that the country's population wanted him out of office.

He also said that the opposition planned to press ahead with plans to collect signatures to demand a referendum on whether Mr Chavez should remain in office.

Looting fears

Shops, national airlines, factories and corporate businesses were closed, while hospitals were only attending to emergency cases.

Hugo Chavez
Chavez: Working at his desk as normal, his vice-president said

About 5,000 troops were deployed around the city to ensure peace was maintained after some supporters of the beleaguered president threatened to loot stores that had been closed.

Production Minister Ramon Rosales estimated that the strike would cost the economy $300m.

Tired public

There have been several large demonstrations in Venezuela by opponents, and supporters, of Mr Chavez since April's failed coup against him.

The strike, organised by trade unions, business groups and opposition parties, is the third such work stoppage to hit the nation in the last 10 months.

Mr Chavez's opponents accused him of stoking social division with his fiery leftist rhetoric and running the economy of the world's fifth-largest oil exporter into the ground.

Mr Chavez insists that he will remain in office until his term expires in 2007 and that the next election will not be held until 2006.

"I'm not going to die. I'm not leaving the country. I'm not going to be overthrown," he said on Sunday.

The BBC's David Chazan
"He insists he will not be overthrown"

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See also:

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